Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet looks set to reorganize Germany's crisis handling of refugees. Her chancellery office chief Peter Altmaier is tipped to take over coordination from the interior ministry.
Draft papers circulated ahead of Wednesday's meeting of Merkel's cabinet prompted opposition claims that Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere was to be sidelined in favor of a refugee policy team headed by Altmaier.
Since Merkel's re-election to a third term in 2013, Altmaier (pictured above) has kept a relatively low profile as chancellery chief. The 57-year-old was environment minister in Merkel's previous cabinet after managing her conservatives in parliament.
Merkel's once unchallenged ratings have dipped in recent voter surveys since an influx of asylum seekers, mainly from Syria, began testing German and EU readiness to meet their longstanding commitments to the UN's refugee convention.
She has also faced repeated warnings from Germany's 16 regional states (or "Länder") and municipalities that their resources are at breaking point.
The online version of the news magazine "Der Spiegel" said de Maiziere's ministry would retain tasks such as registering asylum applicants, integrating those accepted and deporting those rejected.
From within the chancellery, Altmaier would take over the political front role as central contact person, Spiegel said. The German foreign ministry would focus on tackling root causes by trying to help mitigate bloodshed in Syria and elsewhere.
Altmaier would be assisted by another chancellery member, states minister Helge Braun, who is currently responsible for coordination between Germany's federal government and the Länder.
Spreading the load
While Germany's opposition Greens claimed de Maiziere had been demoted, government sources quoted by the German news agency DPA said the aim was to spread the load. Some issues could not be decided alone within his portfolio.
Greens parliamentary co-leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt accused de Maiziere of sticking to a policy of trying to seal off Germany from refugees.
Cabinet's intended reorganization should instead result in the creation of a special ministry for the integration of refugees, she told Berlin's "Tagesspiegel" newspaper.
Speculation that the numbers of asylum seekers could well exceed the current official forecast of 800,000 was spurred by Family Minister Manuela Schwesig of the Social Democrats (SPD), who are partners in Merkel's coalition.
Schwesig told the Funke newspapers group, which includes the "Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung" (WAZ), that "very many women and children" would follow male newcomers under Germany's current residency law allowing family reunifications.
It was "indispensible" that Germany exercised equal rights for women and children in terms of offering them protection from persecution and societal integration, she said.
Merkel ally chides Seehofer
Criticism of Merkel's course from conservative Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer drew at rebuttal from the Christian Democrats' Heiner Geissler.
"Angela Merkel deserves the Nobel peace prize," Geissler told the Bavarian-based newspaper "Passauer Neue Presse", referring to her decision last month to allow Syrian refugees from Hungary to enter Germany unregistered via Austria. "Should she have watched as these people suffered in Hungary?"
"Horst Seehofer should ask himself whether he's closer to Viktor Orban or the human dignity of refugees," Geissler added, referring to a recent visit to Bavaria by Hungary's hard-line prime minister.
ipj/msh (dpa, AFP)