Chancellor Angela Merkel and her rebellious Bavarian allies searched Monday for a way to resolve a standoff over migration after Germany’s interior minister offered to resign, but a compromise looked elusive in the dispute that has rocked her government.
The crisis that has raised questions over the future of Merkel’s 3½-month-old government pits Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and his Bavaria-only Christian Social Union against Merkel, 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 back at the border asylum-seekers who have already registered in another European Union country but Merkel is adamant that Germany shouldn’t take unilateral actions that affect other EU nations.
Seehofer and Merkel, who have long had a difficult relationship, have sparred over migrant policy on and off since 2015. However, the current dispute has erupted even as Germany is seeing far fewer newcomers than in 2015.
Seehofer reportedly argues that measures to tackle migration agreed at a European Union summit last week aren’t enough. He offered his resignation at a meeting with leaders of his party Sunday night — though he put it on hold ahead of a meeting Monday in Berlin with the CDU leadership.
The leadership of Merkel’s party approved a resolution Sunday 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 alliance between the two conservative parties and their governing coalition with the center-left Social Democrats.
Over recent days, speculation had focused on the possibility that Merkel would fire 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, and would leave the government just short of a majority.
In comments to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, Seehofer complained he was in an “inconceivable” situation.
“I won’t let myself be fired by a chancellor who is only chancellor because of me,” he was quoted as saying in an apparent reference to the CSU’s traditionally strong election results in Bavaria.
CDU leaders and lawmakers earlier Monday stressed the importance of maintaining the conservative alliance, Germany’s strongest political force for much of its post-war history.
Merkel says a plan to regulate immigration that EU leaders approved Friday and bilateral agreements in principle that she hashed out with some EU countries for them to take back migrants would accomplish what Seehofer seeks.
However, the more conservative CSU believes its credibility is at stake as it tries to curb support for the rival anti-migration Alternative for Germany party, known as the AfD, in the Bavarian election.
So far, however, the gambit has played poorly in polls and Germans seem to be losing their patience.
“I think it’s caused by the atmosphere with the AfD,” said Joerg Hauvede, 47, as he left Berlin’s main train station. “I hope that the CSU will receive their just deserts for their actions.”
Hard-line Bavarian governor Markus Soeder said “action in Germany to strengthen European interests is absolutely necessary.”
But he also struck a conciliatory tone, saying “there is an abundance of possibilities ... for compromises” and insisting the CSU doesn’t want to break up the conservative partnership.
“We can achieve a lot in a government, but not outside,” Soeder said.
The Social Democrats, who have largely been bystanders so far, demanded that their coalition partners get their act together, and called for a meeting later Monday with the conservative leaders. Party leader Andrea Nahles said “the CSU is on a dangerous ego trip that is paralyzing Germany and Europe.”
“The blame game between CDU and CSU must end, because it is irresponsible,” she said.