Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) called on Monday for new measures to curb immigration but said a plan to turn away migrants at the border still needed work, buying time in a row with Chancellor Angela Merkel that is rocking her coalition.
A showdown over immigration between Merkel and her conservative CSU allies has escalated in the last week but there were signs of a possible compromise when CSU chairman Horst Seehofer said on Sunday the row could be overcome.
Seehofer, Germany’s interior minister, wants the right to reject migrants who have already registered in another EU state but Merkel opposes any unilateral move by him that would reverse her 2015 open-door policy and undermine her authority.
Should the CSU and Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) fail to resolve their differences, there is talk that their 70-year-old conservative alliance could fall apart. Merkel’s three-month old coalition, which also includes the center-left Social Democrats, would then lose its parliamentary majority.
Arriving for a meeting of CSU leaders in Munich on Monday, Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder said the CSU wanted to back the “masterplan” to limit immigration at the border but would leave it up to Seehofer to decide how to implement the measure.
“An important part of the masterplan is the possibility of turning people back at the border,” Soeder told reporters as he arrived for a party presidency meeting in Munich.
“The overwhelming majority of the German population supports this idea and this concept, and that’s why we want to provide support today for implementing it,” he said. “It will be for the interior minister to decide on implementation.”
By backing the “masterplan”, the CSU would defy Merkel and risk destabilizing her coalition. But leaving it up to Seehofer to decide on implementation could fudge the issue for now and allow him to strike a compromise deal with Merkel.
Crucially, Joachim Herrmann, interior minister in Bavaria, said some preparation was still needed to make technical implementation of the plan possible.
“It doesn’t matter whether it takes hours or days – the main thing is that it is effectively implemented,” Herrmann said.
Striking a conciliatory tone in a guest column in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, Seehofer said the cohesion of Europe and Germany was at stake.
“The situation is serious but it can be overcome,” he wrote, adding that clinching an EU deal on the migrant issue at a June 28-29 summit – which is what Merkel wants – was crucial.
He urged EU members to guarantee the protection of the bloc’s external borders, to fairly distribute people allowed to stay and quickly return those without that right.
Merkel is adamant that a European solution is needed and is seeking bilateral deals with some partners, such as Italy and Greece, similar to one agreed between Turkey and the EU in 2016.
The row with Bavaria’s CSU, which faces a tough regional election in October, has piled pressure on Merkel to deliver.
“We can’t solely rely on a European solution,” CSU parliamentary group leader Alexander Dobrindt said. “We also need to take the measures that are possible in Germany in order to enforce the law at our borders.”
Merkel’s open-door migrant policy is widely blamed for the rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) who are now the main opposition party in parliament.
More than a million migrants, mostly fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, have arrived in Germany since 2015.