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16th Nov 2019

Merkel's party displays unity on refugees

  • Merkel faces crucial days to keep her coalition together (Photo: World Economic Forum)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her fiercest domestic critic, Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer, showed unity on Tuesday (3 November) at a party gathering despite clashes in recent days.

Appearing together at a meeting with parliamentary deputies for Merkel's Christian Democrats (CSU) and its sister party, CSU, which Seehofer leads, they played down their differences ahead of difficult talks with the junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats.

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"I hope overall that in a few years, people in Germany will be able to say: They did it right back then, and we were able to manage it. And we're working very intensively towards that," Merkel said, adding that her party is ready to deal with the refugee crisis.

Recent days have seen immense pressure on the government coalition, as Seehofer challenged Merkel to slow the influx of migrants and refugees, most of whom enter Germany via Bavaria.

After discussions on Sunday, Merkel and Seehofer agreed on the need to set up transit zones along the German border where economic migrants could be filtered and sent back.

Hardliner Seehofer toned down his rhetoric on Tuesday.

"We have to agree. So that the public sees that the coalition partners are in a position to act in this historic project," said Bavarian state premier Seehofer on Tuesday, adding that he and Merkel "had received the endorsement of the parliamentary group."

Merkel promised that in future, refugees would be registered and distributed fairly among European Union countries as they arrived at the bloc's borders, rather than flowing through the visa-free Schengen travel zone.

No prisons

On Thursday the two conservative leaders will have to convince the junior coalition party, the Social Democrats, on the issue of transit zones, which the SPD said runs the risk of becoming massive prisons for detained migrants.

SPD leader and vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel tried to soften the tone.

"Sometimes it's not all as dramatic as it reads [in the press]," Gabriel said on Tuesday, adding that he prefers realism in refugee policy rather than refusing to compromise.

But he also warned again transit zones, saying they are impractical, as the number of people arriving from Balkan countries who are deemed safe and who primarily look for work and would be sent back from transit zones, had dropped so low.

"I think it's relatively silly that we're arguing about a problem that affects 2.4 percent of incoming refugees," Gabriel said.

Reportedly Peter Altmaier, Merkel's Chancellery chief and point-man on refugees, said the transit zones could be established in a way "so that they work efficiently but don't look like prisons."

In the meantime, German industry has warned against political infighting.

In a speech on Tuesday, Federation of German Industries (BDI) president, Ulrich Grillo, said that he expected more resolve in the refugee crisis.

"It cannot be that scuffles arise over terms such as transit zones, or immigration centers," he said, adding "we need effective crisis management."

The SPD leader in other comments on Tuesday warned refugees that Germany is not an easy country, AFP reported.

In self-critical style he said, "we are a country that can't deal well with chaos. We like order and have a regulation for everything – except for one million refugees in a single year."

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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