Weakened Merkel to face judgement of her Bavarian allies

German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a news conference following the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium June 29, 2018. (Reuters pic)

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political future rests in the hands of the Christian Social Union (CSU) on Sunday, when the Bavarian party’s leadership meets to decide whether to accept migration deals she brought back from Brussels.

Nine months after elections that saw her lose votes to the far right, a weakened Merkel was forced to turn to European Union neighbours to help resolve a conflict with her allies after they rebelled against her immigration policy.

The party’s leader, interior minister Horst Seehofer, threatened to turn migrants back from the Bavarian border, a move that would almost certainly precipitate a government collapse.

At a Brussels summit this week, leaders hammered out a deal to share out refugees on a voluntary basis and create “controlled centres” inside the European Union to process asylum requests.

A document circulated by Merkel to coalition allies on Friday night outlined repatriation agreements with 16 countries and proposed reception centres in Germany where migrants would undergo an accelerated asylum procedure — measures that represent a significant hardening of her 2015 open-door asylum policy.

But Czechia, Poland and Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban has long sought to position himself as Merkel’s nemesis in the immigration debate polarising the continent, later said they had signed no bilateral agreements on repatriation.

Despite the uncertainty over what was agreed, Bavaria’s premier Markus Soeder, mindful of October regional elections in which he faces a stiff challenge from the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), took credit for pressuring Merkel to reach a deal.

“It goes absolutely in the right direction,” he said, but added he would keep up the pressure to obtain more clarity on the details.

While most analysts expect Merkel to survive the clash with the CSU, it is unlikely to be the last occasion on which the sister party seeks to distance itself from a chancellor it sees as too centrist for its own supporters.

Uncertainty

The document circulated by Merkel to her coalition partners after the summit said 14 countries had agreed “on a political level” to take back some migrants who had passed through other EU countries on their way to Germany.

“This is a kind of Mrs Merkel game calculated for internal German politics,” Jacek Sasin, the head of the Czech Council of Ministers’ Standing Committee said in public television on Sunday.

“I understand that this is a dramatic attempt to save own position, but absolutely there is no agreement.”

A German government spokesman disagreed when asked about the Czech denial. “Willingness was expressed from the Czech side… We regret what we’ve heard from Prague.”

The AfD, holding its party congress in Bavaria, where it hopes to take votes from the CSU in October, sought to capitalise on the confusion.

“She will fall, however much she flails her arms around,” said Alexander Gauland, the party’s co-leader, describing the Brussels deals as “so much hot air”.