Tuesday

20th Nov 2018

Bavaria rebels could unseat Merkel over migration

  • Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer: asylum dispute could end 70-year old CDU/CSU alliance (Photo: Blu News)

Local authorities in Bavaria, Germany, could start turning back migrants on Monday (18 June) in a rebellion that threatens chancellor Angela Merkel's authority.

That was the upshot of crisis talks on Thursday between Merkel's centre-right CDU (Christian Democratic Union) party and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU (Christian Social Union), who had previously stuck together since 1949.

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  • Bavaria was on frontline of 2015 migrant crisis, when more than one million asylum seekers entered the EU (Photo: UNICEF)

The Bavarian 'president', the CSU's Horst Seehofer, has said he has the authority to do it without her approval in his role as German interior minister.

He says people without IDs, or people who traversed another EU state to get to Germany, had no right to claim asylum there under EU law, which says the first point of entry into Europe is responsible for their care.

"Asylum tourism must end. Germany cannot wait endlessly for Europe, but must act independently," Markus Soeder, the CSU's Bavarian 'prime minister', said on Thursday.

Merkel "cannot prevent us from acting right now and doing what we are allowed to do legally," he added.

Alexander Dobrindt, the CSU's co-chair said: "We have a very serious situation on our hands. Some are calling it a historic situation. We aren't budging on our position."

Merkel urged them to hold off until EU leaders meet in Brussels on 28 June.

"I personally think illegal migration is one of the big challenges for the European Union, so I don't believe we should act unilaterally, we should not act in an uncoordinated way and we should not act at the expense of third parties," she said on Thursday, referring to the extra pressure that the CSU plan would put on frontline states Greece and Italy.

"I expect that we [the EU] will all do it together, the federal government included", she said.

The June summit is unlikely to see a breakthrough on EU asylum reform, however, with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia opposed to migrant-sharing.

German people are also losing patience - 62 percent of Germans backed the CSU idea in a poll by German TV station ARD on Thursday, while 37 percent endorsed Merkel's approach.

'Merkel completely alone!' Germany's top tabloid, Bild, said in a headline the same day, highlighting the fact that several CDU members were also unhappy with the status quo.

If Seehofer goes ahead on Monday, that would leave Merkel with two choices, both of which could spell the end of her 13-year rule.

She could call a vote of confidence in herself in the Bundestag, risking a defeat and subsequent resignation, or she could sack Seehofer, destroying the CDU/CSU alliance and her parliamentary majority.

The CDU/CSU and their centre-left coalition partners, the SPD, hold 399 seats in the 709-seat Bundestag, but the CSU accounts for 46 of those, with its departure set to trigger general elections.

Politicking

The drama is playing out ahead of local elections in Bavaria in October, with the far-right AfD party surging in polls, and with Seehofer, Dorbrindt, and Soeder, said to be vying for the presidency despite their show of unity.

It is also playing out amid a clash on asylum seekers between France and Italy's new government.

The SPD party said the CSU was wrong to play petty politics with national stability.

"Acts of drama intended to serve the cause of regional elections aren't appropriate here," the party's head, Andrea Nahles, said on Thursday.

The opposition Greens, the Left Party, and the liberal Free Democrats echoed similar complaints.

The German debate comes after Italy turned away a boat, the Aquarius, carrying 629 migrants despite its legal responsibility to take them in.

That prompted vitriol from French leader Emmanuel Macron, but Italy's populist leaders accused him of hypocrisy, saying France had turned away 10,249 migrants, including women, children and disabled people, who were trying to enter from Italy, between January and May, in actions that resembled the CSU plan.

Kurz's 'axis'

Austria's anti-immigrant leader, Sebastian Kurz, also weighed in on Wednesday by meeting Seehofer and the Austrian and Italian interior ministers in Berlin.

"We believe an axis of the willing is needed to fight illegal migration," he said.

His choice of words was unfortunate, recalling the World War II "Axis" between Germany and Italy.

"We had Axis-powers before. A bad example," Roderich Kiesewetter, the CDU's foreign affairs spokesman said.

But the European Commission is staying out of the scrap, with its spokesman, as well as two commissioners, declining to comment on the legality of the CSU's plan at press briefings in Brussels and Strasbourg on Thursday, citing the sensitivity of the German situation.

Analysis

Aquarius, Dublin: Is EU losing grip on asylum reform?

The standoff over the rescue boat, which is now heading to Spain, is part of a wider politically toxic narrative against refugees and migrants and a symptom of EU failures to reform asylum laws.

Opinion

The Aquarius migrant boat - and the EU policy failings

The precarious situation the Aquarius and its passengers found themselves is a consequence of EU member states' failure to manage migration in a strategic and coordinated manner, where member states beyond those receiving new arrivals are part of the solution.

Exclusive

Basque region offers to host rescued Aquarius migrants

The Basque government have offered to host some of the refugees rescued by the Aquarius humanitarian ship that will dock in Valencia. "That is the commitment of the Basque country," said it leader Inigo Ukrullu.

EU asylum claims drop, Germany registers most

EU states, plus Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, registered 728,470 asylum applications last year, a 44 percent drop compared to 2016. Germany had the highest registrations at 222,560, followed by Italy and France.

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