German Chancellor Angela Merkel heads to the snowy village of Wildbad Kreuth in the Bavarian Alps today. What sounds like a mini-break will take her into the lion’s den of critics within her own political camp.
Wildbad Kreuth offers ideal conditions to "get away from it all" – were it not currently packed with regional CSU delegates from her conservative sister party, the Christian Social Union set on changing the Chancellor's course. Their mood currently ranges from disbelief to outright fury over chancellor Angela Merkel's migration policy. The two sides are so far apart following so many rounds of inner-party debate that constructive policy discussion can safely be ruled out on this occasion.
When Merkel first agreed to come, she said yes to a debate on the future of modern e-governance. At any other time, these regional assembly MPs would have clearly been punching above their own political weight by expecting the chancellor to uphold her commitment and join a CSU gathering in one of the most remote parts of Germany for the second time in less than two weeks. Especially after she already faced the direct call by CSU leader Horst Seehofer for a "full change of course" at this very spot only days ago.
But in the current climate, turning down the invitation could have been seen as a refusal to face her critics. Over this issue, it seems, Merkel is set on meeting them head-on, even if that is becoming an almost daily routine within her own conservative CDU/CSU coalition.
'A letter of rebellion'
Forty-four CDU lawmakers signed a letter of rebellion this week calling for a change, of course, followed by a counter-letter of support. Verbal accusations currently range from "political failure" to yet another "ultimatum." Merkel's transport minister Alexander Dobrindt broke cabinet ranks to pull his CSU party line and call for a close of Germany's borders. Altogether the constant barrage of inner-party noise has long drowned out attacks by the "real" opposition.
Gearing up for today's meeting between his regional lawmakers, CSU leader Horst Seehofer repeated his demand for a "change of course within weeks." His call for an upper limit of 200.000 new migrants for 2016 is also echoed in the 12-point plan that makes up most of the CSU delegates' own letter which they plan to hand to the chancellor. Their call to reintroduce border controls is backed up by Seehofer's announcement that he will otherwise take the matter to the constitutional court.
Tough decisions may lie ahead?
Clearly fed up with the calls for more time from both, Berlin and Brussels, Seehofer also warned his delegates that "tough decisions may lie ahead." Herein lies a barely disguised threat that previously unthinkable scenarios like questioning Merkel's position at the top may soon be on the table. Probably the most avoided question here in Kreuth. As a senior CSU figure put it, there needs to be a change in course "one way or the other." Threats that, of course, need to be balanced carefully with avoiding fresh elections which would mean serving significant shares of the vote to the newly rising right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) on a plate.
Merkel's undeterred push for a broader, European solution is plainly seen as a "mistake" here. They feel it's time for her to face up to the numbers which are speaking an increasingly clear language. More than 1.1 million migrants arriving in 2016, some 44,000 in the first half of January alone. Integration at a rate of some 3,000 people per day, they argue, is simply not doable. European solidarity simply is not there, and the chancellor needs to face up to that.
Warnings from Vienna
Austria's Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz also made a brief appearance here in Kreuth after warning Brussels on Monday that Vienna would soon be forced to take unilateral action unless there was a swift breakthrough over securing the EU's external borders. Austria is holding a special summit today which could see further steps in that direction. It has already sent soldiers to the Slovenian border to help impose tighter checks on migrants there beginning today. Kurz hopes the knock-on effects of border closure could prompt other EU members into action.
Time is running out for Chancellor Angela Merkel - the German, the European leader - to prove that her approach is working. Unless migrant numbers drop sharply within a matter of weeks, before three German States go the polls on March 13, her hand could be forced to change course – one way or the other.