Merkel’s Antagonist Demands Refugee Cap as Chancellor Balks

  • ‘Things have to change’ on migration, Bavarian leader says
  • German coalition beset by anti-immigration party’s gains

Bavaria’s premier pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel to change course and set a refugee quota, renewing a conflict within her coalition amid electoral losses to an anti-immigration party.

The defeat of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union in a state election on Sunday is prompting a renewed push by her Bavarian sister party to cap the number of asylum seekers after about 1 million arrived last year. Horst Seehofer, the Bavarian leader and head of the state’s ruling Christian Social Union, has threatened to boycott a CDU convention in December, saying there’s no point in attending if he and Merkel can’t agree on migration policy, Der Spiegel magazine reported, citing an interview.

“There’s no question that some things have to change,” Seehofer told reporters in the Bavarian town of Schwarzenfeld on Friday before a policy conference of CSU leaders. “Without an upper limit we won’t slow the influx -- I’m deeply convinced of that.”

Though their parties are partners in the national government, Seehofer has been Merkel’s main domestic antagonist since last year’s refugee crisis. Skipping the annual congress of a sister party would mark a breach of tradition in post-World War II Germany. Merkel hasn’t been invited to a CSU convention in November either, according to Bild newspaper. Steffen Seibert, the chancellor’s spokesman, declined to comment on the Bild report.

In the week after Merkel’s CDU was defeated in a state election on her political home turf by the anti-migration Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, her Bavarian allies have renewed attacks on her open-border migration policy. With the next general election due in a year’s time, CSU leaders are meeting to discuss proposals including the migration cap, giving preference to Christian refugees and banning women’s face veils in public.

Independent Party

The Social Democrats, the third party in Merkel’s coalition, urged her to rein in the CSU. “The CSU is trying to embrace the AfD,” Ralf Stegner, deputy national head of the Social Democrats, said in an interview with the Heilbronner Stimme newspaper. “Someone urgently needs to bring the CSU to its senses.”

“Going forward, the rule must be to give preference to migrants from our western Christian culture,” according to a draft policy resolution for the meeting.

Merkel shows no sign of giving way. In a speech to parliament on Wednesday, she defended her refugee policy while rejecting populist rhetoric that offers “seemingly easy solutions.” Her government says the refugee influx should shrink to about 300,000 this year. The CSU, which has always campaigned with the CDU in national elections, has proposed an annual cap of 200,000, which Merkel has called legally and morally implausible.

Seehofer said he wants both parties, informally known as the Union, to do well in the 2017 general election.

“Our policies aren’t directed against the CDU,” he told reporters. “We’re a party of our own with our own profile. My goal is the Union’s success.”

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