Intensifying refugee row threatens Merkel’s coalition

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Refugees are at the center of a dispute that threatens to fracture German Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government. Photo: iStock

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing strong pressure to tighten her country’s refugee policies to avoid the collapse of her coalition government as the heated row over the handling of migration intensifies.

A tense standoff between Merkel and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer continued on Thursday. Merkel and Seehofer spoke for more than two hours on Wednesday night without reaching an agreement on whether the right-wing minister’s demand that refugees should be turned away at Germany’s borders.

The German newspaper Die Welt highlighted the gravity of the situation: “The conflict endangers the existence of the federal government as substantially as the stability of the country.”

Merkel reportedly urged Seehofer to wait until the  June 28 European Union summit, where she pledged to seek a Europe-wide agreement. However, Seehofer is believed to have said that the EU had consistently failed to agree on a common policy since the refugee crisis began three years ago, and that it was unlikely that a consensus would be reached by the end of June.

A Bundestag session was delayed for two hours to allow Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the CSU, its Bavarian sister party, of which Seehofer is a member, to gather for separate emergency meetings, a move that is unprecedented

On Thursday morning, a Bundestag session was delayed for two hours to allow Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU), its Bavarian sister party, of which Seehofer is a member, to gather for separate emergency meetings, a move that is unprecedented.

On Wednesday, Merkel called immigration “a litmus test for Europe” that necessitated “a truly unified approach.” However, the issue is costing her support within the CDU and is a growing source of tension within her conservative bloc.

Seehofer’s CSU faces a state election in October in which it must square off against the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD). The immigration issue is highly emotive, and the CSU’s leaders believe the party needs to take a firm stance, which has the potential to cause a damaging rift with Merkel’s CDU that threatens the future of the fragile coalition.

Seehofer’s chief demand is that asylum seekers be rejected at Germany’s borders if they have entered the European Union in another country, or if they have previously applied for asylum in Germany but were unsuccessful.

Merkel has said that such a move would be illegal and could undermine efforts to construct a comprehensive and viable EU refugee policy.

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