Coordination of Germany's refugee crisis has been shifted from the Interior Ministry to Angela Merkel's chancellery. Still, the government has denied that Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has been demoted.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's close ally and chancellery head Peter Altmaier was appointed chief refugee policy coordinator on Wednesday. His tasks will include liaising with ministries dealing with various facets of the crisis.
The decision to bundle efforts within the chancellery follows a dip in Merkel's once unchallenged voter ratings, and warnings from Germany's 16 federal states that local resources were stretched to breaking point.
Altmaier will head a new team assisted by chancellery deputy minister Helge Braun who is already responsible for ties between the federal government and states.
Interior ministry under fire?
Government deputy spokesman Georg Streiter dismissed opposition claims that Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere had lost some of his mandate as "rubbish." He added that the "operative coordination" from day-to-day remained within the Interior portfolio.
Like Altmaier, de Maiziere also served as the chief of Merkel's chancellery before being tapped for his a stint as interior minister from 2009 to 2011. He then became defense minister from 2011 to 2013, when that ministry was in disarray, and finally again named interior minister in 2013.
Opposition Greens' parliamentary co-leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt had accused de Maiziere of trying to seal Germany off from refugees. She called instead for the creation of a new ministry for the integration of refugees.
The Greens interior affairs spokesman, Volker Beck, spoke on German WDR public radio of "homemade chaos" within the Interior Ministry and called for better coordination with ministries responsible for housing and the job market.
The opposition Left party's co-leader Bernd Riexinger said the cabinet's decision to coordinate across ministries should have taken place at the start of this year.
"Nevertheless, the 'disaster'-minister de Maiziere has been put in his place," said Riexinger.
De Maiziere has been under fire from Germany politicians for not doing enough to tackle the refugee influx to Germany
Demotion of de Maiziere was dismissed by Altmaier, who served as the conservatives' parliamentary manager and environment minister before Merkel's third-term re-election in 2013.
"We have known each other for a long time and work closely together," said Altmaier, who in recent months has kept a low profile while dealing with weighty issues such as the US National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance scandal and Greece's bailout.
Earlier in his parliamentary career, Altmaier worked in the European Commission in Brussels. Previously in the Interior Ministry, he made suggestions to modify Germany's migration policy and boost development aid to tackle the causes of refugees' flight.
It emerged on Wednesday that the Interior Ministry's committee handling refugee matters would be enlarged to include Braun as well as the federal government's integration specialist, Aydan Özoguz, and representatives of the Federal Press Office.
Özoguz is a member of the Social Democratic (SPD) party led by Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, which is a partner in Merkel's coalition government.
The coalition's third party, Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU), which is the sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrat (CDU), welcomed Altmaier's appointment.
"It was correct in view of the size of the problem," said Gerda Hasselfeldt, who leads CSU parliamentarians in the federal Bundestag parliament.
She repeated CSU demands for rapid steps to reduce the inflow of asylum seekers by turning back at the border those who had no prospects of being granted shelter.
"Germany cannot take in everyone," said Hasselfeldt.
German law and EU treaties require individual examination of each applicant's case in compliance with the 1951 UN Refugees Convention.
ipj/sms (dpa, AFP, epd)