Saturday

20th Jan 2018

Merkel coalition still at odds on refugees

  • Merkel (l) and Seehofer edge closer, while the Social Democrats still oppose transit zones on the border (Photo: Blu News)

German chancellor Angela Merkel faces further coalition rifts this week as talks over the weekend with party leaders on the refugee crisis failed to produce a common government policy on how to deal with the huge number of arriving refugees and migrants.

Merkel held discussions for over 10 hours with Horst Seehofer, the Bavarian state premier and Christian Social Union (CSU) leader who last week warned the Chancellor of repercussions if she does not take measures to slow down the refugee influx, although he remain silent on the possible consequences.

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Sunday's talks that included Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the social democrats (SPD), Merkel's junior coalition partners, who left only two hours into the discussions, leaving Merkel and Seehofer to talk more, failed to produce a common stance among the governing coalition parties.

But in a sign of a hardening government position, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and CSU seemed to edge closer together.

On Sunday (1 November) they produced a 6-page position paper calling for the creation of transit zones (referred to as "urgent action to better control our border") along the border, to better filter people in genuine need of protection and economic migrants.

Those arriving from "safe" countries, such as Kosovo or Albania, will go through an accelerated asylum process to be sent home.

The sister parties also agreed on joint border patrols with Austrian police, the creation of a refugee card, and the suspension of family reunification for a period of two years in some limited cases.

While Merkel is under pressure, there was still no mention of capping the number of refugees that Germany would take in, a CSU demand that Merkel has rejected before, or closing down the country's borders.

Transit zones

The SPD is strongly against transit zones and and objects to detaining migrants. It describes the highly-contested CSU proposal as "inappropriate" and legally doubtful.

Social Democratic Party chief Sigmar Gabriel told a party meeting on Saturday: "Rather than huge and uncontrollable prison zones on the country's borders, we need lots of registration and immigration centres inside Germany."

"Mass prisons on the German border, in practice, create more problems than they solve," Justice Minister and SPD politician, Heiko Maas said.

A decision on transit zones should be made this week. The three party leaders continue their discussions on Thursday.

An internal meeting of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group will hear from both Merkel and Seehofer on Tuesday.

The heat will be on an increasingly isolated Merkel as lawmakers return to a new session of parliament and debate the refugee policy.

Merkel cannot afford to lose the public's support, which originally was enthusiastic about the open-door policy, but now seems more and more concerned about the large number of newcomers.

Backing for her CDU-led bloc was down two percentage points to 36 percent last week from an August peak of 43 percent, according to a weekly poll carried out by Forsa, Bloomberg reported.

Some in Seehofer's CSU were already talking last week of withdrawing their support for Merkel, a move that would threaten the government's survival.

Bavaria has been the main gateway for migrants and refugees into Germany. On Saturday, federal police said 9,327 refugees and asylum seekers had entered Germany on Friday, mostly via Bavaria.

Germany, the EU's economic powerhouse, officially expects between 800,000 and a million asylum seekers to arrive this year, double the number from last year.

Since Friday, Germany has been allowing people through five entry points with Austria to creat a more "orderly" passage.

Violence

In the meantime, violence against Syrian asylum seekers saw a sharp rise this weekend.

German police on Sunday reported three different attacks in which six Syrian refugees had to be treated in hospital for injuries.

In each case, mobs of 20-30 people harassed and beat up people seeking asylum with baseball bats. In the eastern state of Saxony, attackers threw explosives at an asylum shelter, injuring a 26-year-old Syrian man, and several other arson attacks were reported across Germany.

Germany's interior ministry said last week that there had been 576 crimes against refugee shelters this year so far, compared to 198 in 2014, AP reported.

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.

Germany makes U-turn on Syria refugees

The interior ministry announced Tuesday it would start sending back Syrian refugees to the country of entry into the EU, taking coalition partners by surprise.

Macron eyes France-UK border agreement

French president Macron wants the UK to take in more refugees as he revisits the 2003 Le Touquet agreement, which allows British border controls to take place inside French territory.

Magazine

The asylum files: deadlock and dead-ends

The EU is reforming a number of internal asylum laws, but lack of staff, politics, and the sheer complexity of the bills means deadlines - like those announced by EU council chief Tusk - are likely to come and go.

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