A group of MPs in Angela Merkel's own party is drawing up a plan proposing fences at the German border, according to a newspaper report. The hardcore rhetoric adds more pressure to the chancellor's refugee dilemma.
The threats from the right wing of Angela Merkel's party are growing louder - and its demands simpler. Now a large influential faction of MPs in her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is reportedly drawing up a new set of measures to stem the flow of refugees into Germany - most notably, they did not rule out building border fences.
According to a report in Monday's "Bild" newspaper, the initiative comes from the "parliamentary circle for mid-sized companies" (PKM), a faction of center-right Bundestag members that claims to represent the interests of small and mid-sized German businesses. It comprises some 188 members of the 311 CDU/CSU parliamentarians currently in the Bundestag.
"We have to stop the stream of refugees," PKM chairman Christian Freiherr von Stetten told "Bild." "Thinking about border fortification should not be taboo." The package would also include measures to shut out at the border anyone that come from nations that Germany deems "safe countries of origin" - which normally means the Western Balkans.
The MPs "secret plan," as the tabloid dubbed the leak, also came with a veiled threat to the chancellor that sounded almost like political blackmail. Von Stetten told the paper that he was convinced that the German government had an "effective plan" to stop uncontrolled stream of refugees to Germany, but "should it become clear in the next week that this assumption was wrong, our parliamentary faction must react."
Asked to clarify the comment, von Stetten sent DW an email that sounded much more cautious. "It is true that there are considerations on how to stem the never-ending stream of refugees," he wrote. "That includes long-term aid projects in the countries of origin and short-term measures, such as those the German Bundestag passed last week. Should these activities not lead to expected success, we have to agree on further measures that are now being internally discussed."
Walls don't work
The idea of border fences was also raised by Rainer Wendt, head of the German police union (DPolG), who told "Die Welt am Sonntag" newspaper on Sunday, "if we want to set up serious border controls, then we have to build a fence along the German border. I'm in favor of doing that." But Wendt drew mixed responses from his colleagues. Jörg Radek, deputy head of the GdP police union, told the "Ruhr Nachrichten" on Monday, "The past has shown that border fences don't stop refugees - the authorities in Hungary have seen that too."
Merkel has consistently opposed the idea, and for good reason, according to Josef Janning, political analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations. "Politically it's nonsense," he told DW. "A) Nobody is really prepared to do this. B) It would be a political disaster for Merkel. C) It would probably not be effective, because the flow would turn to other areas, and the situation would immediately escalate elsewhere. We've seen what happens when Hungary closes the border and the flow takes a different course - it's a matter of one or two days and a country such as Croatia is down on its knees."
According to Janning, CDU parliamentarians certainly are growing dissatisfied with the chancellor, even if they don't actively want her out. "What they tell me is, 'We don't understand her any longer. We don't understand why she doesn't understand why this policy is not sustainable,'" he said. In the meantime, it seems politically expedient to bring up concrete measures: if CDU parliamentarians raise the call for border fences, it heads off the political clamor from the German far-right, which is increasingly taking populist shape in the PEGIDA movement and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
"The mood inside the faction is that people want to see something tangible now," said Janning. "I think Merkel's approach - to find a European scheme to deal with the issue, a collective response to limit the flow, is the way to go. But it takes time and it doesn't produce immediate results."
Merkel is expending significant political capital at home trying to get her plan to deal with the refugees into action - but she needs the cooperation of her intransigent European partners. And she is facing immense political challenges. "Domestically, her government has to help make sure that the municipalities can deal with the flow, otherwise her moral argument will fall apart," said Janning. "And on the European level, she has to make sure that it's not just words, but things are actually happening. And at the moment, she's struggling on both fronts."
Meanwhile, the pressure from her own MPs is beginning to show on the chancellor - Merkel's stance on transit zones to process refugees immediately at the border, for instance, is now much more positive than it was originally. "They have seen that Merkel now has also changed her rhetoric, mostly stressing the need to limit and control," said Janning. "She sticks to her position that there can be no fixed absolute number of refugees, but she is nevertheless eager to be seen as doing everything she can to limit the flow."
"But not surprisingly, that does not discourage the critics, but rather encourages them," he added.