German Chancellor Angela Merkel has surrendered to pressure from her party alliances and accepted a more restrictive immigration policy at the nation’s borders. This follows a week of tense internal negotiations with the German conservative political coalition, which secures her position as chancellor by holding a majority in Parliament.
Over the weekend, EU leaders held a summit meeting to discuss immigration policy and refugee asylum. Their conclusions included allocating funding to Turkish patrols preventing the Aegean crossing, and processing centers on the African continent, where migration applications could be processed before the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.
Some party leaders were not entirely satisfied by what the EU had laid out, and German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer was among them. As the leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), Seehofer concluded that the plan did not address problems in Germany, and threatened to resign if a final meeting with Chancellor Merkel, scheduled for Monday afternoon, did not produce a stricter stance on immigration into Bavaria.
This southern region of Germany, bordering with Austria, has seen the majority of migrant absorption since Merkel announced her open-door border policy in 2015. Seehoffer’s hypothetical resignation would have likely emboldened the far-right populist party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has grown a supportive following in Bavaria.
Last week, Seehofer hinted that the coalition of CDU, CSU and the Social Democratic Party currently keeping the Chancellor in power – were at odds. Merkel had disagreed with Seehofer’s proposal to unilaterally monitor for and reject migrants at the border, stating that without Austria and the EU’s approval, this plan was destructive to the joint efforts of the union to handle the immigration influx.
“It’s in Germany’s interest to control immigration in a good partnership with our European neighbors,” Merkel told a press conference in Berlin.
But with the threat of her coalition dissolving, Merkel accepted a plan which includes internal transit centers at the border of Germany and Hungary, where asylum-seekers will be screened for past sites of asylum applications and returned back to that location, or to Austria.
“I am glad that this agreement has been reached,” Seehofer said. “It has once again become clear that it is worth fighting for a conviction … what follows now is a very sustainable and clear agreement for the future.”
However, some critics say this approach contradicts and possibly threatens the current free-travel approach within the Schengen countries, where a person can usually traverse nations without being screened or registered by border control.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz addressed Germany’s new deal in a speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday. He reiterated that Austria needed the same reinforced border control from the south.
“Securing the external border is the basis for securing internal mobility [in the EU],” Kurz said.
The Austrian police and army also rolled out a new patrol unit at the Slovenian border to undergo training exercises on Tuesday. This was in response to Merkel and Seehofer’s new compromise as news about the migrant populations moving through the Balkans this summer, according to Kurz.