Merkel’s government frays as migrant row festers

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 5, 2015, a refugee holds a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel after the arrival of refugees at the main train station in Munich, southern Germany. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel fights to save her government in a heated battle over immigration, a poll showed on June 15, 2018 most Germans support the tougher line of her rebel interior minister. The survey found that 62 percent were in favour of turning back undocumented asylum seekers at the border, in line with the stance of Interior Minister Horst Seehofer who is openly challenging Merkel. / AFP PHOTO / Christof STACHE

The conservative alliance headed by Angela Merkel may splinter in a row over immigration, an ally of Germany’s Chancellor said on Friday, as the third party in her fragile government suggested its patience was wearing thin.
The disagreement between Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) sister party threatens the future of her coalition three months after it took office, just as European divisions over migrants also come to a head.
“I believe (Merkel) will try to the very end to find unity in the matter,” said CDU home affairs spokesman Mathias Middelberg. Asked if the alliance with the CSU could shatter, he told Deutschlandfunk radio: “That can’t be fully ruled out.”
Bavaria was on the frontline of a migration crisis in 2015, when an ‘open door’ policy adopted by Merkel led to around a million refugees flooding into Germany.
Many conservatives held that policy responsible for a surge in support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), the main opposition party since national elections in September.
CSU Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, facing a regional election in October, now wants Germany to refuse entry to migrants who have already registered in countries further south, a plan that Merkel opposes.
Bavarian CSU premier Markus Soeder – widely considered to want to wrest the CSU party chairmanship from Seehofer – stood by that proposal on Friday. “We have to listen to the people,” he told mass-circulation daily Bild.
A poll for broadcaster ARD published on Thursday found that 62 percent of Germans believed refugees without papers should not be allowed in.
Underlining the extent of the row, Volker Kauder, the head of the conservative benches in parliament, was reported by the Rheinische Post to have asked the legislature’s president Wolfgang Schaueble to mediate.
“He has credibility on both sides,” the regional newspaper also quoted an unnamed member of the CDU’s inner circle as saying.
The parliamentary president traditionally steers clear of daily political issues.
The CSU fears anti-immigration sentiment could bring to an end its decades-old domination of Bavaria’s government.
Merkel says its plan would tie her hands as she seeks agreement on a proposal to share the refugee burden more equitably across the European Union, where another row over immigration has damaged ties between two other core member states, Italy and France.
The conservatives’ center-left coalition ally, the Social Democrat (SPD) party, said their dispute needed to be settled.
Its chairwoman Andrea Nahles said: “We won’t allow the panic of the CSU’s regional government to hold Germany and Europe hostage,” she told reporters.
SPD Finance Minister Olaf Scholz added: “The task of governing our country is not an episode of Game of Thrones, but a very serious matter. Those involved should not forget that.”
If Seehofer pushes ahead with the plan under his authority as interior minister, Merkel could be forced to dismiss him, further fraying the coalition but potentially helping the CSU in its regional battle with the AfD.