Merkel Seeks to Defuse Coalition Fight Over Refugee Influx

  • Chancellor's deputy warns against `political hysteria'
  • Party leaders to meet to push through package of measures

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deputy warned against letting Europe’s refugee crisis trigger “political hysteria” as the German leader seeks to defuse open conflict in her coalition over ways to curb the influx.

Germany has a “stable government,” Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said in a speech to parliament on Thursday, pushing back after a top lawmaker in his party this week raised the prospect of the coalition collapsing over the conflict. Merkel meets Gabriel, who heads the Social Democratic Party, and Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer in Berlin later Thursday to seek agreement on further legislation to respond to the refugee influx.

“Not everything is going perfectly; there are mistakes -- sometimes we fight and sometimes we don’t get things done as quickly as we want,” Gabriel said to the lower house, or Bundestag. “But one can’t really say that this country is incapable of acting, that it’s lost control and every day is chaos.”

The arrival of more than 1 million refugees in Germany last year has triggered a political brawl over how to reduce the influx while integrating those who’ve fled war and oppression. Looming over Merkel’s open-door stance on refugees is a threat by Seehofer’s Christian Social Union to challenge her policy in Germany’s highest court. Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the smaller CSU form a single parliamentary caucus in Berlin, governing in a coalition with the junior Social Democrats.

The CSU’s challenge drew a rebuke from the Social Democrats’ caucus leader this week, who for the first time suggested that the move could bring down the government.

“What Seehofer is doing amounts to a breach of the coalition,” Thomas Oppermann said Tuesday. He also warned that Merkel’s CDU and the SPD would have enough seats to govern without the CSU, which would be an unprecedented alignment in post-World War II Germany.

German Infighting

Merkel won critical public support Thursday from her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, who ruled out a cap on migration and tightening Germany’s borders.

“It’s going slowly, that’s true, but the chancellor is working tirelessly,” Schaeuble told the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper in an interview. “I support her in this with everything I have.”

The chancellor’s open policy was also lauded by Ruth Klueger, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor and writer who addressed the Bundestag Wednesday to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in 1945. Klueger said she accepted the invitation to speak mainly because of the German government’s open-door policy on refugees.

Germany is being celebrated worldwide “thanks to its open borders and the generosity with which the flood of Syrian and other refugees have been taken in and continue to be taken in,” Klueger said. “I am one of the many on the outside who have gone from surprise to amazement.”

Swedish Actions

In Sweden, which has tightened border controls as the country struggles with the influx, the government said Thursday that it may reject almost half of the 163,000 asylum seekers who entered the country last year. The Swedish Migration Agency will examine ways to return migrants either to their home countries or the European country where they first arrived.

The three German coalition leaders will meet in the late afternoon in the Federal Chancellery to try and bridge a gap on a package of measures originally negotiated in November, including restrictions on asylum seekers from so-called safe-origin countries and measures to scale back bureaucracy. The talks have stalled over disagreement on how much to restrict family reunions for refugees who are already in the country.

Seehofer, who governs the state where the vast majority of refugees enter Germany from Austria, has become Merkel’s chief antagonist. While Merkel insists on the country’s moral and legal obligation to shelter refugees and a broader European Union plan, Seehofer has called for a cap on migration -- and threatened the legal challenge if Merkel doesn’t change course.

“The call to drop Merkel’s bet on an EU-wide solution and instead introduce measures unilaterally poses a challenge to the chancellor’s preferred course of action,” Carsten Nickel, a political-risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in Brussels, wrote in a note Wednesday.

Merkel this week reaffirmed her stance in a meeting with CDU-CSU lawmakers in Berlin, according to a party official familiar with the talks. She appealed for their backing as she seeks to forge a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants into the EU and to cajole EU member states to take on more of the burden.

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