Merkel’s Refugee Troubles Mount as Allies Clash on Border Plans

Bloomberg, November 1, 2015

German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces further coalition discord over the refugee crisis after weekend talks with fellow party leaders failed to identify a common government stance on tackling the biggest influx of migrants since World War II.

The disagreement threatens another stormy week for the beleaguered chancellor as lawmakers return to Berlin for a parliamentary session that will again be dominated by the projected arrival of as many as a million asylum seekers in Germany this year.

With public concern mounting and party support on the slide, Merkel and Horst Seehofer, the Bavarian state premier and Christian Social Union chief who has demanded she stem the flow of migrants, will address their joint parliamentary caucus Tuesday on efforts to tackle the crisis.

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Merkel met for a total of some 10 hours on Saturday evening and throughout Sunday with Seehofer, who heads the CDU’s Bavarian sister party and is her chief coalition critic. Bavaria is the main gateway to Germany for the refugees pouring over the border from Austria, and Seehofer had said the Bavarian state government would take unspecified action if Merkel didn’t meet his demands to curb the number of migrants. In the last two months, 344,000 refugees entered Bavaria, according to the state’s interior ministry.

The two leaders agreed on the main goals of controlling immigration and combating the root causes of the crisis “so as to reduce the number of refugees,” and to help integrate those in need, according to a joint position paper e-mailed after the talks.

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The “most urgent” measure was to pursue the setting up of so-called transit zones along the border with the aim of filtering out economic migrants from those such as Syrian refugees with a genuine claim to asylum. Those arriving from “safe” countries, such as Kosovo or Albania, would be subject to an accelerated asylum process to send them home.

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While the coalition tone on refugees appears to be hardening, Merkel held to her core principles that there can be neither caps on asylum seekers nor the closing of the German border to migrants. A record 218,394 refugees fled across the Mediterranean Sea in October, more than in all of last year, the United Nations refugee agency said.

As the chancellor seeks to defuse the political unrest over her open-door refugee policy, she also confronts waning public approval. Backing for her CDU-led bloc slipped two percentage points to 36 percent last week, down from an August peak of 43 percent, according to a weekly poll carried out by Forsa.

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