German conservatives urge Merkel, Seehofer to settle migrant row

File: Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) rely on the CSU to maintain power through a coalition, also including the centre-left Social Democrats, formed just three months ago. Photo: Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

BERLIN  - Lawmakers from both conservative parties in the German coalition urged Chancellor Angela Merkel and her interior minister on Monday to resolve an internecine dispute over migrant policy that has thrown her three-month-old government into disarray.

READ: Merkel's coalition on the brink over migration stand-off

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, for years a thorn in Merkel's side, offered to quit his cabinet post and the chairmanship of Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU) at a party meeting on Sunday.

The CSU had threatened to impose new controls at the German border this week if they deemed that agreements Merkel brought back from a European Union summit were insufficient to ease the migrant burden.

Merkel is deadset against unilateral action by the authorities in Bavaria, the main entry point for migrants into Germany, saying it goes against European law.

Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) rely on the CSU to maintain power through a coalition, also including the centre-left Social Democrats, formed just three months ago.

The two parties have been in an alliance for 70 years under which the CDU left the CSU to fly the conservative flag in Bavaria. However, the CSU now faces a strong challenge from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in October when the southern state votes in regional elections.

READ: Embattled Merkel draws up new measures to tackle migration

At a joint meeting of the CDU and CSU parliamentary groups, a chorus of lawmakers urged Merkel and Seehofer to make up.

Senior CDU lawmaker Volker Kauder said he expected a solution to be reached this evening. "We will stay together," he said to several minutes of applause, according to participants.

CSU hardliner Alexander Dobrindt said the problems were 'solvable' and reminded lawmakers of the value of their alliance.

Addressing the meeting, Merkel acknowledged that the desire to settle the dispute was great and vowed to do everything possible to get an agreement, people at the gathering said.

Earlier, veteran CDU lawmaker and former finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned that the conservative bloc was standing on the edge of the abyss and called for them to agree.

Germany's political crisis is the latest sign of a divide across the EU between those who want to maintain open borders and those who want to restrict the number of migrants entering the bloc.

Merkel has the upper hand

It was unclear whether, with the resignation threat Seehofer, a jovial Bavarian able to win over a beer tent full of voters, was engaging in high-risk brinkmanship to make Merkel back down or whether he has simply had enough.

He was later persuaded by party colleagues to talk to Merkel one last time on Monday to try to settle the dispute, declaring he would make his final decision within three days.

For now, Merkel seems to be in the stronger position.

Her CDU lawmakers are still behind her while the CSU has baffled voters and commentators by backing themselves into a tight corner. A Forsa poll showed that 67 percent of Germans thought the behaviour of Seehofer and the CSU was irresponsible.

By letting the CSU tear itself apart over its future in the coalition, Merkel may yet rid herself of a formidable foe in Seehofer - as she has with a string of other top conservatives in her 12-1/2 years in office.

Bad blood between the two runs deep

Combative Seehofer, 68, has been a headache for Merkel, especially over her open-door migrant policy, and the last three years have been punctuated by a series of showdowns between the two.

He told colleagues on Sunday he saw no alternative to turning migrants back at the border despite Merkel's efforts in Brussels last week and discussions with the chancellor had been fruitless, according to a party source.

Merkel was to meet a group of CSU delegates at 5 pm (1500 GMT) to try to find a compromise. Later, leaders of all the coalition parties, including the Social Democrats, plan to meet.

If the row is not resolved, the CDU-CSU alliance may break up, robbing Merkel of her parliamentary majority. This could see her trying to lead a minority government.

Merkel would be only two seats short of a majority in the Bundestag lower house and may choose to rely on the Greens or pro-business Free Democrats to back her on individual policies.

She could also call a vote of no confidence, which she may win or which may trigger a new election. Opinion polls suggest the AfD would be among the biggest winners in any fresh vote.

Even if Merkel, once Europe's most powerful leader, limps on as chancellor, the bitter dispute is a sign that her authority is waning, say experts.


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