Merkel’s Bavarian allies warn SPD to stick to deal on migrants

From left: Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania’s State Premier and politician of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Manuela Schwesig, designated next leader of the SDP, Andrea Nahles and Brandenburg's State Premier and politician of the SDP, Dietmar Woidke talk to the media prior the beginning of a regional conference of the SPD in Potsdam, Germany on Saturday. (AFP) 
Updated 24 February 2018
0

Merkel’s Bavarian allies warn SPD to stick to deal on migrants

BERLIN: Top officials in the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives on Saturday warned the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) that failure to stick to agreements on migrants could cause the collapse of the potential new German government.
SPD members, who have the final say on the coalition agreement for Europe’s largest economy, must vote by March 2 in a postal ballot, with results to be made public on March 4.
Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer, who heads Bavaria’s CSU, told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper that new legislation was planned to make it easier to return failed asylum seekers to Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, and to set up migrant centers in border areas until asylum applications could be processed.
If the SPD refused to support these laws after agreeing to a coalition, “that would be the end of the government,” Seehofer told the newspaper. He said it would be unacceptable if the SPD did not stick to the agreements made with conservatives.
Seehofer, who is expected to become interior minister, told the paper the legislation would be brought in quickly — before the Bavarian state election on Oct. 14.
Bavaria’s CSU conservative party, which lost 10 percentage points in September’s national election, has vowed to recapture votes lost to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party with a hard-line stance on migration and by emphasizing traditional conservative values.
As part of the coalition talks, SPD politicians reluctantly agreed to limit future migration to a range of 180,000 to 220,000 after the influx of over a million people in 2015 and 2016.
It remains uncertain if SPD members will approve the renewed tie-up with conservatives.
If they do not, Germany may well see Merkel form a minority government rather than brave a new election at a time when the anti-immigrant AfD has improved its position in the polls from September’s election.
The AfD became the first far-right party to enter Parliament in over half a century, buoyed by widespread frustration about Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open the doors to many mainly Muslim migrants.
Seehofer also criticized Merkel for her plan to announce ministerial posts for her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) ahead of a party meeting on Feb. 26.
“Posts should only be distributed when a government is in place,” he said. He declined to say which politicians from his party would likely get ministerial posts.
Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Soeder, who is due to succeed Seehofer as premier, told the Funke Mediengruppe newspaper group the SPD faced a “historic downfall” if members voted against the coalition and a new election was called.
He said some SPD politicians were oblivious to the views of working class Germans, the party’s traditional base, especially on the issue of migration.
“Many (workers) have the impression that we need to limit migration and that we can’t spend billions on refugees and forget our own population,” he said.
A new poll conducted for broadcaster ZDF showed the conservatives with 33 percent support, a gain of 2 points, while the SPD dropped two percentage points to 17 percent.
Two-thirds of conservatives and SPD supporters backed a renewal of the coalition that has ruled Germany since 2013, and 78 percent of SPD supporters said they expected members to back a coalition in the postal ballot, the poll showed.


Number of asylum-seekers in Europe plunges in 2017, says EU

Migrants walk behind a police car during their way from the Austrian-German border to a first registration point. (AFP)
Updated 4 min 51 sec ago
0

Number of asylum-seekers in Europe plunges in 2017, says EU

  • Over 460,000 people applied for asylum in Europe in 2013. More than 660,000 did so in 2014
  • Merkel now faces the challenge of persuading EU governments to sign up to a common plan on the migrants

BRUSSELS: The EU’s asylum office says the number of people applying for international protection in Europe has plunged but remains higher than before 2015, when more than 1 million migrants entered, many fleeing the war in Syria.
EASO said in an annual report Monday that 728,470 application requests were made for international protection in 2017, compared to almost 1.3 million applications the previous year. It says around 30 percent of the applicants come from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
EASO says there is a still a backlog: More than 950,000 applications were still awaiting a final decision at the end of last year, almost half of them in Germany.
Over 460,000 people applied for asylum in Europe in 2013. More than 660,000 did so in 2014.
Meanwhile, hard-liners in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc on Monday gave her a two-week ultimatum to tighten asylum rules or risk pitching Germany into a political crisis that would also rattle Europe.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer’s CSU party at a meeting unanimously backed his call to give Merkel a fortnight to find a European deal on the burning issue by a June 28-29 EU summit, failing which he would order border police to turn back migrants.
Three years after her decision to open Germany’s borders to migrants fleeing war in Syria and Iraq and misery elsewhere, Merkel is still struggling to find a sustainable response to complaints from the CSU, her Bavarian allies, over her refugee policy.
Merkel’s woes come as European Union countries are once again at loggerheads over immigration, triggered by Italy’s refusal this month to allow a rescue ship carrying 630 migrants to dock.
Malta also turned the vessel away, sparking a major EU row until Spain agreed to take in the new arrivals.
Seehofer has been one of the fiercest critics of Merkel’s liberal stance, under which over one million asylum seekers have been admitted into the country since 2015.
He wants to turn away at the border new arrivals who have previously been registered in another EU country — often their first port of call, Italy or Greece.
But Merkel says that would leave countries at the EU’s southern periphery alone to deal with the migrant influx. Instead, she wants to find a common European solution at the EU summit in Brussels.
“How Germany acts will decide whether Europe stays together or not,” Merkel told her CDU party’s leadership at a meeting in Berlin, according to participants.

Popular misgivings over the migrant influx have given populist and anti-immigration forces a boost across several European nations, including Italy and Austria where far-right parties are now sharing power.
In Germany, voters in September’s election handed Merkel her poorest score ever, giving seats for the first time to the far-right anti-Islam AfD.
Several high profile crimes by migrants have also fueled public anger. They include a deadly 2016 Christmas market attack by a failed Tunisian asylum seeker and the rape-murder in May of a teenage girl, allegedly by an Iraqi.
With an eye on October’s Bavaria state election, the CSU is anxious to assure voters that it has a roadmap to curb the migrant influx.
“We must send a signal to the world: it’s no longer possible to just set foot on European soil in order to get to Germany,” a leading CSU figure, Alexander Dobrindt, told the party meeting.
Seehofer had struck a more conciliatory tone, telling Bild on Sunday: “It is not in the CSU’s interest to topple the chancellor, to dissolve the CDU-CSU union or to break up the coalition.
“We just want to finally have a sustainable solution to send refugees back to the borders.”

Merkel now faces the challenge of persuading EU governments to sign up to a common plan on the migrants.
Central and eastern EU nations such as Hungary and Poland have either refused outright or resisted taking in refugees under an EU quota system.
A populist-far right government in Italy and the conservative-far right cabinet in neighboring Austria have also taken an uncompromising stance.
Merkel’s talks later Monday with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Germany could prove crucial if she is to have any chance of forging an agreement in Brussels.
On Tuesday, she will also meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Germany.
Berlin is also reportedly preparing to call a meeting between Merkel and the leaders of several EU frontline nations in the migrant crisis ahead of the EU summit.
“It would be almost a miracle if she emerges a winner from the next EU summit,” Welt daily said.
But the chancellor may have no choice, as Seehofer could still launch the nuclear option of shutting Germany’s borders in defiance of her — an act of rebellion which would force her to sack him.
That “would be the end of the government and the alliance between CDU and CSU,” an unnamed CDU source told Bild.