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Are German coalition partners on the brink of divorce?
Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel and her coalition partner and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer on Monday agreed on a deadline of July 1 to find a solution regarding their disagreement on the treatment of migrants. The dispute risks to split the fragile German coalition and put Germany on a collision course with the EU if no solution can be found.
The fear before yesterday was that the CSU, the Christian Socialist Union of Bavaria, would play hardball, and demand a complete closure of the borders for immigrants.
But a decision has now been postponed until after a crucial EU summit on 28 and 29 June.
“There is no solution of the problem,” says Professor emeritus Wolfgang Renzsch, of Magdenburg University, who watched press conferences of both leaders.
“Much more, they have postponed it until the end of the month, until the next summit of the EU. And they have also remained in the position that Angela Merkel says that there is “no automatism” to refuse the entrance to people who seek asylum and have been registered before while the minister of the Interior says, ‘if there is no solution, they will not be allowed to enter Germany,’ and that he is going to prepare in the next two weeks
Many political observers in Germany say it’s not just about immigration, but about power, and about the position the CSU has in Bavaria.
There will be elections in Bavaria later this year.
“Basically the CSU is doing it because of the elections in Bavaria in the autumn,” says Bernd Hüttemann, the president of the European Movement Germany, an NGO that promotes EU integration.
“And the CSU is mainly trying to make a big point in Bavarian politics. So that would bring them into a position to show their own people that they are more clear about border control and immigration.
“But on the other hand it is, at the state level of Germany, very important to see that three CDU ministers are really with Merkel. They said clearly, we don’t close the borders, we don’t want it.
“So this is also a question between Bavaria and the rest of the country, it is not just between CDU and CSU.”
He adds that everybody in the CDU would be “very disappointed” if a clash between the partners were to take place.
In the extreme case that Horst Seehofer, as the Federal Minister for Interior, would decide to close the borders, “then Merkel can by Constitution easily say it is impossible and I take the lead. And then that could mean probably the break of the coalition,” he says.
The irony is that the politicians are really riding the populist wave, and especially the Bavarian party tries to win votes by playing into these sentiments.
“At the moment, about 25 per cent of refugees are already in employment,” says Herbert Brücker, an economist specialising on immigration with the University of Bamberg.
“We expect that within 5 years after arrival, about 50 percent are in employment.
“This is still less than the average of the German population: there we have 65 percent of employment. But you can see that the employment rates over time converge and at the same time of course, the cost of refugee migration declines.
“So at the current influx we have, that stands at about 10.000 people per month, I cannot see that we have a big burden to the German economy.
The total cost to take in refugees stands “between 15 and 20 billion Euro a year,” according to Brücker, or 0.5- 0.8 percent of German GDP.
“And that is not a big burden, we do not need a tax increase or something like that to do the necessary payment,” he says.
But the issue seems to have become more: the political survival of Angela Merkel and her fragile coalition.
Just last September, Merkel performed badly in national elections, and was forced into a new grand coalition with the Socialists, who had lost time.
It now all depends if she can hammer out some sort of a plan that is both acceptable for her right-wing coalition partners in Bavaria, as well as for the European Union, where countries such as neighboring Austria and the Czech Republic will be far from happy if Germany was to completely close its borders to asylum seekers.
Meanwhile, the dispute shows a significant pull to the right in German politics.
“The Bavarian Christian Social Union has already been Orban-ised,” says Renzsch, referring to Hungaria’s right-wing Prime Minister Victor Orban.
“You can see that [by who] their political friends are. This is Orban himself, who has been invited to meetings of the CSU, and he obviously seems to be a good friend. Seehofer and Stauble visited [Russian President Vladimir] Putin who is somehow the godfather of all the right-wing populist parties in Europe, and has no other interest than splitting up the EU, and Seehofer is an admirer of Trump.
“These are all the enemies of Angela Merkel. And if you always side with the enemies of Angela Merkel, it is very difficult to cooperate closely and with confidence. Therefore, I don’t believe that the current dispute is over,” he says.