segunda-feira, 2 de julho de 2018
Merkel and Seehofer make fragile peace
Merkel and Seehofer make fragile peace
Berlin will establish transit zones along the Austrian border to allow for accelerated deportations of refugees.
By MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG 7/2/18, 11:08 PM CET Updated 7/3/18, 6:24 AM CET
BERLIN — Angela Merkel secured a compromise with her Bavarian partners over refugee policy late Monday, ending a weeks-long standoff that threatened to bring down her government and fracture her conservative bloc.
Under the terms of the deal, negotiated between Merkel and Horst Seehofer, interior minister and leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union, Berlin will establish so-called transit zones along Germany’s southern border to allow for accelerated deportations of refugees who are not entitled to seek asylum in the country.
“After a hard struggle and difficult days, this is a good compromise,” Merkel said Monday, adding that the agreement “allows us to preserve the spirit of partnership in the EU.”
The accord, if accepted by the Social Democrats, who form a grand coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the CSU, should resolve a long-simmering conflict over refugees that posed the greatest challenge to the chancellor’s authority since she took office in 2005.
Like any good compromise, it allows both sides to claim victory. Merkel can say she prevented a German go-it-alone approach that ignores the concerns of its neighbors. And the CSU can argue that it pressured Merkel into accepting harsher border policies than she would have liked.
The deal follows a dramatic escalation of Merkel’s conflict with Seehofer in recent days that culminated late Sunday with the Bavarian telling a party gathering in Munich that he planned to resign as both CSU leader and interior minister in order to prevent a deeper split with the CDU.
CSU leaders convinced Seehofer to meet with Merkel one more time to try to hammer out a compromise. Before gathering with their negotiating teams early Monday evening, the two met with Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble, a stalwart of German conservative politics who warned MPs earlier in the day that the two parties were “standing on the abyss.”
A number of leading CSU figures were taken aback by Seehofer’s move to resign. Yet after weeks of belligerent rhetoric and brinksmanship, they tempered their tone on Monday.
Bavarian premier Markus Söder, who many blame for the escalation of the dispute, stressed ahead of the Merkel-Seehofer meeting that the CSU remained committed to both the Union, as the 70-year-old alliance of conservative parties is known, and to the government coalition.
Problems on home turf
The clash between the sister parties emerged as the CSU prepares for what promises to be a tough state election campaign in Bavaria. The party currently enjoys an absolute majority in its home region but polls suggest it will have difficulty defending its position amid the rise of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD).
As Germany’s southernmost state, Bavaria is the main gateway for refugees to the country. Merkel’s asylum policies, which many criticize as too lax, have been a rallying cry for the AfD in the predominantly rural, tradition-bound region.
That’s why many analysts believe Seehofer decided to confront Merkel over the refugee issue ahead of the election. While Merkel, who has tightened refugee rules in recent years, doesn’t disagree with Seehofer in substance, she opposed his proposal to turn back refugees at the border if they had registered in another EU country. Merkel feared such a step would trigger border closures in Austria and other countries in the region, effectively dismantling the bloc’s Schengen system of open borders.
Under Monday’s deal, refugees registered elsewhere would be placed in designated transit areas, effectively refugee camps, which have the same extraterritorial legal status as those in airports.
The idea isn’t new. Merkel tried to introduce such an arrangement during her last term but was unable to win the support of the Social Democrats. It was unclear late Monday whether the party would now accept the policy.
The advantage of such a set-up is that the refugees could be sent back to the country where they were registered without a prolonged administrative procedure, as is now the case.
Such returns would only be possible if Germany has a bilateral agreement with that country to send them back, however. In recent days, Merkel has sought to secure such arrangements with more than a dozen EU countries, with mixed success. Neither Italy, the first stop in the EU for most of the migrants arriving in Germany, nor Austria, which lies on the main transit route, have agreed.
Austrian politicians were quick to express doubts about the deal.
“We can’t accept this,” former Austrian defense minister Hans Peter Doskozil, a member of the opposition Social Democrats, told Bild, stressing the necessity for a Europe-wide solution. “The Union’s inter-party compromise would create a one-sided burden for Austria.”
With refugee numbers in Germany down to levels not seen since before the crisis in 2015, the practical application of Monday’s agreement is limited, at least for now.
Still, in a region that feels exposed to the threat of another wave of refugees, the symbolic importance of the move for the CSU could be significant.
A more pressing question is what the short-term political fallout for Merkel and her government will be.
The dispute illustrated the degree to which many in Merkel’s alliance, including a sizeable number of Christian Democrats, are unhappy with her leadership.
By succeeding in fighting off that challenge, however, Merkel should be able to strengthen her hold on the party, some argue.
Other observers argue that she emerges from the clash diminished. While Merkel survived, she suffered another close call, underscoring her vulnerability. What’s more, her harshest internal critics will remain.
Indeed even Seehofer, despite his offer to resign on Sunday, said he would stay on as interior minister and CSU chief.
Considering the acrimony of his latest dispute with Merkel, there will be serious questions over his ability to work with the chancellor in such a key post.
In recent days, the personal nature of his confrontation with Merkel burst into the open.
“I’m not going to allow myself to be dismissed by a chancellor who owes her position to me,” Seehofer told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday.
The infighting highlights the main challenge Merkel’s government faces — winning back public trust.
The government’s credibility with voters took a severe hit as a result of the coalition crisis, according to recent polls.
That may explain why the Bavarians decided to pursue a compromise in the end.
If the coaltion had collapsed, they would have gotten the blame, even in Bavaria.