Bavarian Premier Seehofer called for a review of Germany's migration policy before police had even issued an official statement. Despite being allies, he has been a vocal critic of Chancellor Merkel's open-door policy.
Bavaria's State Premier, Horst Seehofer, on Wednesday faced mounting criticism for remarks he made in the wake of Monday's terror attack in Berlin, which saw 12 people killed and 49 injured.
Speaking just 14 hours after a truck driver plowed into a crowd at a Berlin Christmas market, the leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said "we owe it to the victims, those affected and the entire populous to rethink and adjust our entire immigration and security policy."
Seehofer's remarks sparked cross-party backlash - less for the content than for the timing. His calls for a complete review of Germany's immigration policy came before authorities had even issued an official statement concerning the attack or any information about a suspected perpetrator or perpetrators.
At the time of his comments, Berlin authorities had detained one man on suspicion of perpetrating the attack. The man was reported by the media to be a Pakistani migrant. Federal prosecutors later admitted doubts about whether he was indeed the attacker and released the 23-year-old after having insufficient evidence linking him to the attack.
Authorities are continuing to hunt the attacker, believed to be affiliated with the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) extremist group.
Seehofer accused of politicizing attack
Lawmakers from across parties have accused Seehofer of exploiting the attack to stoke popular gains and pressure the chancellor.
The CDU's deputy head, Armin Laschet, said the timing of Seehofer's remarks was "not a normal approach to politics."
Speaking to German broadcaster ZDF, Laschet said as long as the identity of the perpetrator is still unknown, it makes little sense to connect the attack to migrants entering the country.
"What if the perpetrator were from Germany, or one of the neighboring countries, as was the case with the attack in Nice and Brussels?" he said. "In such cases, I think it's important we let the police do their work first."
Thomas Strobl, interior minister for the German state of Baden-Württemberg (CDU), also warned against using the Berlin attack for political ends. "We should always let the investigators do their work first," he told German broadcaster SWR on Wednesday. "Once we are presented with reliable results, then we can have a facts-based discussion."
Green Party lawmaker Renate Künast also attacked Seehofer for politicizing the attack while people were "still stunned and mourning." The CSU leader, she said, made the remarks before he even knew whether the attack was carried out by a migrant - something one can, in her opinion, conflate with populism.
Union divided over migration
Seehofer has been a long-time critic of Merkel's open-door policy since the chancellor allowed some 1 million refugees to enter Germany last year.
With elections scheduled for next year, the CSU has adopted a notably more conservative standing in light of popular gains enjoyed by the populist, anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD). The party also insists that such an influx of migrants cannot be repeated and is demanding an upper limit of 200,000 refugees per year.
Such a threshold, Seehofer said, would be a prerequisite to participate in a government coalition with the CDU following next year's election, should the chancellor emerge victorious. Merkel, however, has consistently refused to put a limit on the number of asylum-seekers Germany will allow in the country.
The two parties form a parliamentary group in the Bundestag referred to together as the Union. They have served together in 12 out of 18 post-war governments.
dm/sms (dpa, AFP)