Merkel Ends Coalition Hostilities With Deal on Refugees

  • Processing centers inside Germany will handle some asylum bids
  • Chancellor quells revolt from Bavarian allies over migrants

Chancellor Angela Merkel extracted a compromise from her coalition partners to set up migrant processing centers in Germany, easing domestic discord as she pursues regional solutions to Europe’s refugee crisis with countries such as Turkey.

Three to five “reception facilities” will be set up, including two in Bavaria -- where thousands cross daily -- to accelerate the processing of applications by people from so-called safe-origin countries including Albania and Serbia. They will face residency restrictions, followed by quicker deportation. 

“We want to reduce the disorderly influx; we want to establish legal procedures,” Peter Altmaier, Merkel’s chief of staff, told Germany’s upper house of parliament in Berlin on Friday. “This gives us hope that we will have the chance to arrive at a grand consensus in the coming months to address this issue.”

Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer, the leader of a political insurrection against Merkel in the past few week, welcomed the plan as a commitment to reduce the flow of arrivals.

By defusing a rebellion among allies unhappy with her open-door policy, Merkel now has a chance to shift focus to measures for securing the European Union’s outer borders. An EU report released Thursday said the number of asylum seekers arriving in the bloc between this year and 2017 may total 3 million.

“We’ve ended this phase of the discussion and a huge amount of work now lies ahead of us,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin alongside the party leaders in her coalition, Social Democratic Party head Sigmar Gabriel and Seehofer, one of her main critics.

Moral Obligation

Even with Gabriel citing a figure of 1 million refugees expected to enter Germany this year, Merkel is sticking to her insistence that her country has a moral and legal obligation to shelter those fleeing war and oppression, while demanding that migrants who don’t qualify for asylum must return home.

Seehofer had threatened unilateral action if Merkel’s administration didn’t take measures to halt the flood of newcomers pouring across the border from Austria. Most are fleeing the civil war in Syria, while many others have trekked across the western Balkan route from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The political fight, the gravest in Merkel’s third term and one that spurred speculation about her future, harried the German leader as she leads talks with Turkey on securing its border with Greece and seeks leverage over eastern European states that reject an EU-wide distribution system.

Coalition leaders also agreed to set up a single national registration system for asylum seekers, to be approved by parliament this year.

Support for Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led bloc declined 3 percentage points to 37 percent in a monthly poll for ARD television, the lowest since September 2012. Merkel’s approval rating dropped 5 percentage points to 49 percent, according to the poll.

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