Germany’s Merkel faces new domestic dispute over migration
BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought Tuesday to defuse a standoff with her interior minister over his calls to turn back some migrants at the border, while insisting that Berlin shouldn’t take unilateral action.
Horst Seehofer became interior minister in March, promising a “master plan” on migration issues. That was supposed to be presented Tuesday, but Seehofer canceled it on Monday in a spat that revived tensions dating back to the influx of more than a million migrants in 2015-2016.
Seehofer leads the Christian Social Union, the Bavaria-only sister party to Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, and was a leading critic then of her welcoming stance.
As part of a wider plan to streamline the handling of migrants, Seehofer advocates turning back at the German border asylum-seekers previously registered in another European Union country. Merkel wants European solutions to migration issues and is wary of Germany taking such action, potentially increasing pressure on countries such as Italy and Greece.
Seehofer’s CSU, always a touch more conservative than Merkel’s party, faces a Bavarian state election in October and is taking a tough stance on migration in an effort to tamp down support for the nationalist Alternative for Germany party. His plan is also drawing some support from members of Merkel’s CDU.
After meeting Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of neighboring Austria, a hardliner on migration whose country will take over the EU’s rotating presidency July 1, Merkel said she wants to see “sustainable solutions” and discuss the issue at the European level.
“What we should not do, from my point of view, is push the entire responsibility onto a few countries where the refugees arrive,” she told reporters. “What is important to me is deciding things together in Europe and not acting unilaterally.”
She said she strongly supports Seehofer’s plan as a whole but “there is a need for discussion on one point. ... You know my priorities and now we will hold talks.”
Seehofer, asked about the dispute Tuesday after a meeting of conservative lawmakers, said only: “Give us time.”
Migrant numbers have declined steeply in the past two years, but Germany is still registering about 11,000 new asylum-seekers per month.
Kurz said he wouldn’t get involved in the German spat, but stressed that his country’s EU presidency will make strengthening the bloc’s external borders a priority.
“Not everyone in the world who suffers from persecution can find a better life in Europe, or central Europe,” he said.