German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and his CSU party are engaged in a high-stakes gamble over asylum-seekers. That should not surprise anyone, says Jasper von Altenbockum of the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung.
Is Germany's coalition government about to collapse, just three months after it came to power? The latest developments suggest that could, in fact, be the case. If on Monday Interior Minister Host Seehofer receives the go-ahead from his party, the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), for his plan to turn back asylum-seekers on the German border, he could implement the policy right there and then. Chancellor Angela Merkel would then have no choice but to force Seehofer to resign. Granted, Seehofer's CSU is allied with Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), but the chancellor cannot succumb to the whims of her junior partner. That would be the tail wagging the dog.
Both could back down
And neither can the CSU dictate what an interior minister should do. Seehofer, who also heads the Bavarian party, could postpone orders to turn back asylum-seekers for two weeks. Even so, he and the CSU will keep insisting on the border policy in order to retain credibility because Seehofer has always demanded a tougher stance on asylum-seekers. He famously criticized the status quo as "the rule of injustice" in 2016 when he still served as Bavaria's state premier. Seehofer must, therefore, continue opposing Merkel. That is what his successor, current Bavaria State Premier Markus Söder, means when he talks about a "credibility showdown."
Merkel could, of course, also opt to make concessions to remain in power and save the coalition. But has she not already done just that? Her request to postpone sending back asylum-seekers until bilateral agreements have been reach with Germany's neighbors seems to suggest that Merkel would tolerate Seehofer's border regime if those talks fail. That would somewhat contradict arguments that the CSU is forcing Merkel to commit to a new course prior to the European Union summit in two weeks time. In reality, Merkel could also exploit this domestic standoff to exert pressure on EU members to reach an agreement.
The 'mother of all elections'
The CSU, meanwhile, has its sights set firmly on the Bavarian state election — or the "mother of all elections" as Söder once called them — on October 14. So far, Söder's political maneuvers have had little impact; retaining the absolute majority in Bavaria looks unlikely. By insisting on a tough border regime, the CSU hopes to appeal to voters who would otherwise support the far-right Alternative for Germany party. But will this risk alienating some Catholic CSU voters, who agree with Merkel's welcoming attitude toward refugees? It is a risk the party is willing to take, for sitting idle is no option.