Merkel Mends Ties with Bavarian Ally on Immigration

The German chancellor restores unity in her conservative alliance by walking back an open-doors policy.

Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, September 28
Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, September 28 (Bundesregierung)

German chancellor Angela Merkel started walking back her open-door immigration policy on Sunday to mend ties inside her ruling coalition.

A joint statement released by Merkel and Horst Seehofer, the leader of her Bavarian sister part, the Christian Social Union, calls for the creation of “transit zones” on Germany’s border to control the influx of people as well as a temporary freeze in family reunifications.

In a concession by Seehofer, the paper does not suggest a ceiling for the number of asylum seekers that can enter Germany this year.

The Bavarian leader had advocated such a limit.

Seehofer earlier gave Merkel an ultimatum, saying Bavaria would take unspecified “self-protecetion” measures if Berlin failed to stem the flow of immigrants.

Germany expects to take in up to one million people this year. Many are refugees from the Syrian Civil War who can expect to stay in the European country at least until the end of the conflict. But several hundreds of thousands from poor Balkan nations will likely be returned.

Merkel got ahead of public opinion by insisting that Germany could cope with the unusually high number of asylum applications. Her approval rating has fallen to a four-year low.

Local officials from her own Christian Democratic Union complained this month that Merkel’s immigration policy was “not in line with either European or German law, nor does it reflect the CDU’s program,” they said.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, whose Social Democrats are normally more relaxed about immigration, warned that welcoming attitudes toward newcomers could change dramatically if local governments were forced to choose “between caring for refugees and renovating a school or financing a swimming pool.”

But it was Seehofer who took the hardest line.

When Merkel’s office took Hungary’s Viktor Orbán to task for erecting a fence on his country’s border with Serbia in an attempt to keep immigrants out, Seehofer argued that the right-wing leader deserved support for “securing” the European Union’s outer borders.

This week, German-speaking Austria surprised its northern neighbor by building a fence of its own on the border with Slovenia and allowing migrants to cross the border into Bavaria, including at night, without giving notice.

The creation of transit zones is meant to allow German authorities to detain immigrants at the border and assess their claims. Merkel previously resisted this proposal from her Bavarian allies.

Her turnabout should restore calm in the Christian democrat alliance. But it could provoke new tension in her coalition with the Social Democrats.

Following a meeting of Social Democratic Party leaders earlier this weekend, Malu Dreyer, the prime minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, told the DPA news agency that transit zones are both impracticable and “problematic for a state founded on the rule of law.”