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Coalition clash over refugees

January 20, 2016

CSU leader Horst Seehofer has added his powerful voice to a growing right-wing revolt against Angela Merkel's refugee policy. Forty-four members of her coalition wrote a letter demanding an about-face by the chancellor.

Merkel, Bundestag
Image: Reuters/F. Bensch

Bavarian State Premier Seehofer said on Tuesday that Merkel would have to show a reduction in refugee arrivals via the border with Austria by March. Seehofer's Christian Social Union (CSU) is the more right-wing sibling party to Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

"We want a solution with you, but the emphasis is on 'we want a solution' - that is crucial," Seehofer said at a CSU conference, fainting during his impassioned address.

Seehofer and a growing roster of politicians in Merkel's coalition have called for closing borders to most refugees in response to mass displacement in the Middle East. The nominally border-free Schengen Zone has long been touted as one of the European community's greatest accomplishments.

'Existing laws'

Forty-four lawmakers in Merkel's alliance urged "the strict implementation of existing laws" - turning back refugees who enter Germany via a "safe" third country. They urged Germany to resume applying the EU's Dublin asylum regulations, which say that refugees must seek asylum in the first member country that they land in.

"In light of the developments in recent months, we can no longer speak of a great challenge - we are on the verge of our country being overwhelmed," they wrote in a letter obtained by the French news agency AFP. The deputies wrote that quick processing of asylum applications, housing in "appropriate" conditions and "successful" integration of newcomers would prove impossible if "the number of arrivals remains this high or begins to climb again in the spring."

Support for Merkel

In the face of the growing right-wing opposition to refugees, other lawmakers continue to support Merkel, with Social Democrat Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arguing on Tuesday that closing Germany's borders would not solve the issue of mass displacement. Alongside Merkel's CDU and the CSU, the center-left Social Democrats govern Germany in a grand coalition.

"I guarantee you that 'a solution to the crisis' will not be achieved through a closure of the border," Steinmeier told foreign journalists in response to comments from Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt that border closures would eventually happen.

Steinmeier said a long-term solution could only come about through a refugee resettlement program across the European Union, joint efforts to secure the bloc's outer borders and the fulfillment of a 3-billion-euro (3.3-billion-dollar) aid pledge to Turkey.

Germany took in 1.1 million migrants in 2015, the vast majority of those who entered Europe over the past year. About 40 percent of them were fleeing the nearly five-year civil war in Syria.

Merkel, who has attempted to rally Germans with the slogan "We Can Do It," has also pledged a "tangible reduction" in the number of refugees arriving in Germany in the coming months. Her government has recently moved to expedite the deportation of Tunisians.

mkg/jm (Reuters, AFP, dpa)