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16th Feb 2019

Merkel faces court threat on refugee policy

  • Seehofer and Merkel at a meeting in November. Seehofer wants Merkel to cap the refugee influx at 200,000 per year. (Photo: Bundesregierung/Bergmann)

German chancellor Angela Merkel is facing increasing pressure from coalition allies to cap the number of migrants entering the EU's largest country, and to help lower levels of government with the care of refugees.

On Tuesday (26 January), Horst Seehofer, state premier of Bavaria and leader of Merkel's closest coalition partner, sent her a letter asking her to limit the annual intake of refugees to 200,000 per year, or face a possible legal case at the constitutional court.

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On Wednesday afternoon, Merkel is receiving representatives from German municipalities. They also want a reduction in the intake of refugees, but were less strict about the numbers, demanding fewer than 1 million, the number that arrived last year.

“We expect the chancellor to clarify when we can finally expect a significant reduction of refugee numbers,” said Gerd Landsberg, head of the federation of German municipalities and towns, according to German newspaper Die Welt.

'Coalition rupture'

Seehofer's letter summarised earlier demands made by his party, the centre-right Christian Social Union (CSU), which is the sister party of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Bavaria - the south-eastern state where most migrants enter Germany.

He demanded secure external EU borders, controls of German border, an annual cap of 200,000 refugees, and the return of refugees to the Austrian border.

The letter, which was sent by fax and post, was a “letter of demands”, not a threat, according to Bavarian justice minister Winfried Bausback.

But MP Thomas Oppermann from the other coalition partner in the federal government, the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), described the letter as “an announcement of a coalition rupture”, according to Der Spiegel.

Oppermann, chairman of the SPD in the Bundestag, noted that the grand coalition did not need the support of the CSU to continue its rule: it has a majority with the CDU and SPD alone.

But if the CDU and CSU, a combined party in the Bundestag, were to break up, that would be a political novelty not seen since 1976, in what was then West Germany.

Seehofer expects an answer by Friday, otherwise the letter will be published.

But first, Merkel will have to listen to the wishes of the German cities and towns on Wednesday.

She is receiving three umbrella organisations of local and regional governments in her office in Berlin. They want the federal government to step in and help to resolve practical and financial problems caused by the influx of refugees.

They want support for state benefits, finding jobs for migrants, and are worried about the lack of housing.

The demands come on top of a plea from CDU/CSU MPs to change course on her refugee policy, and criticism from her own transport minister.

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