Merkel-SPD reaches ‘breakthrough’ on refugee family reunion

(180112) -- BERLIN, Jan. 12, 2018 (Xinhua) -- German Chancellor and leader of German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel (C) shakes hands with leader of German Social Democratic Party (SPD) Martin Schulz (R) after a joint press conference at the headquarters of SPD, in Berlin, Germany, on Jan. 12, 2018. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD) on Friday achieved a breakthrough in their exploratory talks aimed at forming a new coalition government, local media reported. (Xinhua/Shan Yuqi)(srb)

BERLIN: The conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) took one of the most difficult hurdles in its grand coalition negotiations on Tuesday, potentially clearing the way for Angela Merkel’s fourth term as chancellor.

In the now-formal coalition negotiations between Germany’s two biggest parties, the CDU agreed with centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) that the number of reunions for refugee families would be capped at 1,000 a month – the same figure that was set out at the end of exploratory talks earlier this month – but that the current suspension on reunions would end on July 31. However, the deal also appears to include exceptions for “extreme hardship cases” – potentially softening the cap somewhat.

The Social Democrats quickly claimed the deal as a victory. Party leader Martin Schulz claimed that the agreement amounted to a “1,000+ regulation,” since the rules making exceptions on humanitarian grounds went “significantly further” than the initial coalition agreement.

SPD deputy parliamentary leader Eva Högl told reporters in Berlin that residence permits could still be granted on humanitarian grounds, and that, as of August 1, “family reunions for people with subsidiary protection will finally be allowed again.”

Subsidiary protection is an intermediate status defined under European law, which “applies when neither refugee protection nor an entitlement to asylum can be granted and yet serious harm is threatened in the country of origin,” as the German federal refugee agency BAMF puts it on its website.

Once granted, it entitles the asylum seeker to a one-year residence permit, which can be extended on reapplication, as well as the right to work.

The German government had suspended family reunions for refugees with “subsidiary protection,” but that suspension was due to expire on July 31.

On Thursday, the German parliament will vote on whether to extend this suspension beyond that date.