German coalition teeters as minister offers to resign over migrants
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German coalition teeters as minister offers to resign over migrants

Future of Merkel's center-right government thrown into doubt as Horst Seehofer says he wants to quit after failing to trim immigration numbers

German Interior Minister and Bavarian Christian Social Union politician Horst Seehofer looks on at the beginning of a party leadership meeting of the Bavarian CSU party, sister of the Chancellor's CDU, on July 1, 2018 in Munich. (AFP PHOTO / Christof STACHE)
German Interior Minister and Bavarian Christian Social Union politician Horst Seehofer looks on at the beginning of a party leadership meeting of the Bavarian CSU party, sister of the Chancellor's CDU, on July 1, 2018 in Munich. (AFP PHOTO / Christof STACHE)

MUNICH, Germany — German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition was facing an uncertain future, as her hardline conservative interior minister Sunday offered his resignation after weeks of battling to change her mind on migrant policy.

Horst Seehofer told fellow leaders of the conservative Bavarian CSU party he wants to resign as both party chief and interior minister, saying he had “no support,” sources at their closed-door meeting in Munich told AFP.

But CSU parliamentary group chief Alexander Dobrindt “does not want to accept Seehofer’s resignation,” participants in the hours-long huddle said.

The lack of clarity from the Bavarian camp raises questions about the future of Merkel’s governing coalition between the CDU-CSU alliance and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).

If Seehofer does quit, the CSU could offer a replacement interior minister if it aims to remain tied to Merkel’s CDU party.

Secretary General of the Christian Democratic Union Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, center, arrives to deliver a statement after a party leadership meeting at the CDU headquarters in Berlin, on July 1, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / John MACDOUGALL)

Alternatively it could break up the two parties’ decades-long partnership, depriving Merkel of her majority in parliament and pitching Germany into uncharted political waters.

To politically survive, Merkel could attempt a minority government, seek a new coalition partner in the ecologist Greens or pro-business Free Democrats, or orchestrate a no-confidence vote in parliament that could trigger new elections.

Meanwhile, the CDU on Sunday offered its sister party no conciliatory gesture in the tug-of-war over whether to seek European solutions to slash migrant numbers or take unilateral national measures.

CDU general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said in Berlin party leaders were “united” behind “effective, humane solutions together with our European partners.”

After the Bavarians’ relentless pressure on Merkel, European leaders on Friday agreed to new measures to reduce immigration to the bloc and so-called “secondary migration” of asylum-seekers between countries.

Merkel, who has been in office since 2005, warned last week the issue of migration could decide the very future of the EU itself.

In this file photo taken on April 14, 2016, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and then Bavarian state premier and leader of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) Horst Seehofer give a press conference at the Chancellery in Berlin. (AFP PHOTO / ODD ANDERSEN)

Leaders said they would consider setting up “disembarkation platforms” outside the EU, most likely in North Africa, in a bid to discourage migrants and refugees boarding EU-bound smuggler boats.

Member countries could also create processing centers to determine whether the new arrivals are returned home as economic migrants or admitted as refugees in willing states.

At the national level, Merkel also proposed that migrants arriving in Germany who first registered in another EU country should be placed in special “admissions centers” under restrictive conditions, according to a document she sent to the CSU and the Socialists.

The document also outlined deals with 16 other countries to return already-registered migrants if they reached Germany.

Supporters of German AfD wave flags in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, May 27, 2018. The AfD that swept into Parliament last year on a wave of anti-migrant sentiment is staging a march Sunday through the heart of Berlin to protest against the government. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Sources said Seehofer rejected Merkel’s assessment that the EU-wide measures would “have the same effect” as his demand to turn away at the border asylum-seekers already registered in other EU nations.

That left him with only three options.

He could defy her orders by ordering border police to carry out his plan, which would force her to fire him and almost certainly break up the CDU-CSU alliance, or he could accept a humiliating climbdown or resign.

As the CDU and CSU parties hunkered down in Berlin and Munich, leaders on both sides sought to clarify what was a stake.

“It’s not about who comes out on top, but about what’s right,” Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder told the CSU gathering, according to news agency DPA.

Meanwhile for Merkel’s troops, “the image of the country, our ability to act and our ability to govern” were at stake, said economy minister and close Merkel ally Peter Altmaier.

‘Merkel-bashing’

The chancellor’s frantic last-minute diplomacy was ultimately prompted by the CSU’s fear of losing its cherished absolute majority in Bavaria’s state parliament.

The “Free State” with its beer-and-lederhosen Alpine traditions, powerful industries and impenetrable dialect has a more conservative bent than other German regions.

But the CSU and CDU together form a center-right force that has dominated national politics for decades.

Alternative for Germany (AfD)’s demonstrators holding placards and German flags gather at the main station in Berlin to attend the “demonstration for the future of Germany” called by the far-right AfD in Berlin on May 27, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Odd ANDERSEN)

Political stability was upset by Merkel’s 2015 decision to keep borders open to migrants and refugees arriving from the Middle East via the Balkans, Hungary and Austria.

Since then, more than one million people have arrived in Germany, while Merkel’s governments have repeatedly tightened immigration and asylum laws.

Nevertheless, the anti-refugee, anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD) was propelled into federal parliament for the first time last year by outrage over immigration, leading to months of paralysis while Merkel struggled to put together a workable coalition.

Opinion polls point to the AfD making a similarly spectacular entrance to Bavaria’s regional parliament in October.

Weeks of “Merkel-bashing”, however, have failed to help the CSU, as a Forsa poll last week showed around 68 percent of Bavarians backed Merkel’s quest for a Europe-wide answer to migration rather than Germany going it alone.

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