Little sign of compromise in German government showdown

Little sign of compromise in German government showdown

BERLIN - Associated Press
Little sign of compromise in German government showdown

German Chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel (C), the Secretary General of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (L) and German Agriculture minister and Deputy Chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Julia Kloeckner look on prior to a party leadership meeting at the CDU headquarters in Berlin, on July 2, 2018. AFP PHOTO / John MACDOUGALL

Germany’s interior minister was expected to hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party on Monday after offering his resignation in a bitter dispute over migration policy, but there was little sign of a possible compromise.

The dispute that has raised questions over the future of Germany’s 3Ğ-month-old government pits Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and his Bavaria-only Christian Social Union against Merkel, the head of its longtime sister party, the Christian Democratic Union.

Ahead of a difficult Bavarian state election in October, the CSU is determined to show that it is tough on migration. Seehofer wants to turn asylum-seekers who have already been registered in another European Union country back at Germany’s border, but Merkel is adamant that Germany shouldn’t take unilateral action.

Seehofer, who reportedly argues that measures to tackle migration agreed at a European Union summit last week aren’t enough, said early Monday he would hold talks during the day with the CDU. The leadership of Merkel’s party on Sunday night approved a resolution stating that "turning people back unilaterally would be the wrong signal to our European partners."

It is unclear what effect Seehofer’s resignation as interior minister and CSU leader, if he goes through with it, would have on the two conservative parties’ governing coalition with the center-left Social Democrats. His likeliest replacements as party leader have sounded even tougher in the current dispute.

Over recent days, speculation had focused on the possibility of Merkel firing Seehofer if he went ahead unilaterally with his plan. That would likely end the seven-decade partnership of the CDU and CSU, which have a joint parliamentary group, in turn leaving the government just short of a majority.

CDU leaders and lawmakers on Monday stressed the importance of maintaining intact the conservative alliance, Germany’s strongest political force for much of its post-war history.

Deputy CDU leader Armin Laschet said the party’s position is "independent of Horst Seehofer or Angela Merkel, because we want the European solution."

Merkel maintains that a plan to regulate immigration that European Union leaders approved Friday and bilateral agreements in principle that she hashed out with some countries for them to take back migrants would accomplish what Seehofer seeks.

However, the more conservative CSU - which has sparred with Merkel over migrant policy on and off since 2015 - believes its credibility is at stake as it tries to curb support for the anti-migration Alternative for Germany party in the upcoming Bavaria election.

European agreements "will take a very long time" to take effect and there are uncertainties over which countries will join in, hardline Bavarian governor Markus Soeder said. "So I think action in Germany to strengthen European interests is absolutely necessary."

He said that "there is an abundance of possibilities ... for compromises," but didn’t specify what they were. And he insisted that the CSU isn’t questioning the government’s stability and doesn’t want to break up the CDU-CSU partnership.

"We can achieve a lot in a government, but not outside," Soeder said.

The CSU’s Hans-Peter Friedrich, a former interior minister, told the Bild newspaper that "we can’t make any more bad compromises."

He added that, if Seehofer resigns, that wouldn’t automatically mean the CSU’s other ministers being withdrawn from the government. "There is nothing automatic about anything," he was quoted as saying.

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