Political Convictions

Merkel’s frenemy Horst Seehofer hints he may resign if CDU/CSU rift continues

Fortsetzung der Sondierungespräche
Going in the out door. Source: DPA

With tension between Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) at an all-time high over disagreements on migration policy, Ms. Merkel’s gadfly, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, told public broadcaster ARD that his party isn’t trying to break apart the coalition or bring down the German chancellor.

“I don’t know of anyone in the party who wants to endanger the government in Berlin, who wants to dissolve the faction community with the CDU or who wants to overthrow the chancellor,” Mr. Seehofer said. Though it may be hard to believe, he added.

The Bavarian CSU politician even described the situation as an “emotionally difficult moment” that is testing his own convictions. In such times, “conviction is more important than the office,” he continued, hinting that he may end up resigning if an agreement cannot be reached between the two parties.

In these past, trying weeks, Mr. Seehofer has threatened to use his power as interior minister to reject asylum seekers at the German border if they had already registered in a different EU state, like Greece or Italy. Should he act without the government’s approval, Ms. Merkel has warned she would be forced to fire him from her cabinet. That would likely result in the CSU leaving the coalition government, possibly sparking new elections.

Let the summit decide

Mr. Seehofer’s Wednesday statements came just ahead of an EU summit where Ms. Merkel will meet with her 27 quarrelling EU counterparts to discuss bilateral agreements on refugee policy. A European solution is urgently needed to prevent each country from implementing their own national border rules, effectively restricting the free movement of people across the EU, which is guaranteed in the Schengen Agreement.

“If [the summit] fails, then we have to be ready to act nationally,” he continued.

The CSU’s hardline stance on refugees stems back to 2015, when Bavaria was the epicenter of the refugee crisis. Mr. Seehofer said his party’s main concern is being able to tell its voters that “we have things under control now,” a message the party is especially keen to deliver ahead of Bavaria’s regional election this fall. “If a state imposes a re-entry barrier, then it must be enforced,” Mr. Seehofer said. “The rule of law must have teeth.”

The conservative party is trying to win support back from voters who are keener on the Alterative for Germany’s populist platform, without losing the support of those who prefer the CDU’s center-right approach. A recent survey by the Forsa Institute published in Die Zeit found that 54 percent of voters who elected the CSU in the last election would prefer to vote for the national CDU, which is not an option in Bavaria. Further, 39 percent of Bavarians said the CSU was the biggest problem in the state, followed by refugees (30 percent) and the housing market (24 percent).

Should Ms. Merkel come back empty handed after meeting with the other EU governments at the summit, the CDU and CSU plan to meet Sunday to discuss their next move. Mr. Seehofer had given Ms. Merkel a deadline for the end of June to figure out how to stem the flow of migrants into Germany. If she doesn’t, it looks to be a real showdown.

Christine Coester is an editor for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: c.coester@handelsblattgroup.com

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