Thursday

18th Oct 2018

Refugee crisis 'threatens viability' of Merkel coalition

  • Gabriel (l): CDU and CSU infighting helps far-right populists (Photo: Bundesregierung/Bergmann)

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s centre-left deputy leader, has said infighting on refugees among the centre-right CDU and CSU parties threatens the viability of the grand coalition.

The vice chancellor, whose SPD party is also a junior coalition partner, told Spiegel Online on Friday (30 October) the CDU-CSU dispute is “simply irresponsible.”

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His remark adds to pressure on German chancellor Angela Merkel, who is facing a political crisis over her policy of welcoming refugees.

Gabriel spoke out after the CSU’s Bavarian prime minister, Horst Seehofer, told the CDU chancellor, earlier this week, she has until Sunday to slow the arrivals.

"If this doesn't happen, we have to consider what other options we have," he said on Tuesday.

He didn’t elaborate. But German media report the CSU might withdraw its ministers from the federal cabinet, prompting Merkel’s fall from power.

For her part, Merkel responded to the ultimatum by saying: “You can only reduce the number of refugees as a result of joint action with Turkey, Greece, and the EU. You have to tackle the causes."

But Gabriel told Der Spiegel that “given the great challenge our country faces because of the big influx of refugees, the dispute between the CDU and CSU now threatens the viability of the government."

He also warned that the infighting helps extremists.

The anti-immigrant Pegida movement attracted 10,000 people to a rally in Dresden last month, amid a surge in arson attacks against refugee accomodation centres.

“The longer the dispute in the [coalition] goes on, the more people will turn away from [mainstream] politics and right-wing extremists will gain more ground,” Gabriel said.

Gabriel, Merkel, and Seehofer are to meet on Sunday to discuss the situation.

The SPD leader has proposed practical measures, including: more staff for asylum procedures; language courses; training and education of refugees; and rapid deportation of those who aren’t entitled to protection.

Meanwhile, the Bavarian prime minister has also picked a fight with Vienna, after accusing Austria of waving refugees though the border in an uncoordinated way.

Since early September, at least 318,000 people entered Germany via Bavaria, local officials claim.

Earlier this month, Bavaria threatened to send some of them back to Austria if Merkel did not limit the flow.

It never followed through. But Merkel is now facing rebellions from both the left and right of the coalition spectrum.

One prickly issue between the CSU and the SPD is the establishment of "transit zones" on Germany’s external borders, in order to deal with asylum seekers before they move further into the country.

The CSU wants the zones, but the SPD is against them, because, it says, they would entail “vast encampments in no man’s land” for people whose asylum requests are denied, bringing back bad memories from the country’s WWII history.

Talks on the issue are still ongoing among the coalition partners.

But in the meantime, Merkel is paying a high price for her open doors approach.

A recent INSA poll showed the combined CDU and CSU bloc down 2 points to 35 percent - its lowest approval rating in more than three years, Reuters reports.

"The most important question following the refugee crisis is this: How's it going to change Germany?", Ivan Krastev, the chair of the Sofia-based think tank, the Centre for Liberal Strategies, said at the Vienna Policy Conference, a seminar on rebuilding trust in Europe, on Thursday.

Merkel's party displays unity on refugees

Ahead of Thursday's difficult talks with her coalition partner on transit zones, Angela Merkel's own party union displays unity on the refugee crisis.

No transit zones on German borders for now

German coalition partners have layed differences to rest over transit zones on the border, with a deal on reception centres inside Germany and faster asylum decisions.

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