The ruling Christian Democratic party (CDU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday reached an agreement with its sister Christian Social Union (CSU) in the state of Bavaria to push for a limit on the number of refugees Germany will accept. After several hours of talks on Sunday between the CSU leadership and the CDU, a compromise was reached setting a limit of 200,000 refugees a year.
The agreement is in response to a populist backlash against the country’s immigration policy during that latest federal election Sept. 24 and will become a part of coalition talks to form Germany’s next government. So far Merkel is hoping to work with the pro-business Free Democrats and environmentally focused Greens on the next coalition government.
Ms. Merkel’s allies in the CSU had argued that the decision to admit 1 million asylum seekers in 2015 during the Syrian refugee crisis had opened a right flank to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which won 12.6 percent of the Sept. 24 vote . The CSU demanded that a cap be placed on future immigration in order to win back alienated voters.
The immigration cap will not apply to legal workers who come to Germany from other countries or to immigrants from other EU states, but only to asylum seekers and refugees and reunification for refugee families.
Ms. Merkel reportedly argued that the German constitution does not allow asylum seekers to be turned away at the border, so the asylum seekers initially will be admitted to the country, but required to stay in reception centers where they will be interviewed and a determination made about whether they qualify to remain in Germany. If they fail to meet the new requirements, they will be sent home directly from the centers.
Ms. Merkel’s faction was able to get wording into the agreement that allows for exceptions to the cap during refugee emergencies. “If the limit cannot be kept because of international or national developments, the federal government and the Bundestag can decide on suitable adjustments to either raise or lower the target,” the agreement said. While more negotiations are required to spell out the conservative position, the refugee compromise, between two parties that historically vote together in parliament, cleared the way for the negotiations with the Free Democratic Party and the Greens.
Politicians also considered an agreement on a refugee cap to be crucial to shoring up support for the CDU in next Sunday’s crucial elections for the state parliament in Lower Saxony, which the CDU lost by one seat in 2013 to a coalition of the Social Democratic Party and the Greens. At a press conference after talks, Ms. Merkel and CSU leader Horst Seehofer said that Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere had been given the job of putting the immigration cap into a final text that could be agreed to by both sides.
The leaders said they also agreed on the need for a new law on the regulation of skilled immigrants coming to the country, which is a demand of the Free Democrats. Opposition to refugees and immigration became a strident issue in the election campaign, with the AfD putting up posters of pregnant women that said Germans should produce their own workers rather than allowing immigrants into the country.
The message won a following, especially in eastern Germany and Bavaria, where older workers have had less luck finding jobs since reunification. Ironically it’s the area of Germany which has had the fewest refugees resettled. But voters made clear their dissatisfaction with the conservatives on the subject. The CDU/CSU coalition lost 8 percent of the vote compared with the 2013 election totals, and the AfD won 12.6 percent of the vote.
Daniel Delhaes reports on politics, transport and airlines from Handelsblatt’s Berlin office, Silke Kersting covers consumer protection, construction and environmental policy in Berlin and Charles Wallace is an editor for Handelsblatt Global in New York. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org, Kersting@handelsblatt.com and email@example.com