Future of Merkel coalition in doubt as interior minister offers to resign

German Interior Minister and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) Party Horst Seehofer speaks to journalists after a party leadership meeting at the CDU headquarters in Berlin, on July 2, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 02 July 2018
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Future of Merkel coalition in doubt as interior minister offers to resign

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

MUNICH, Germany: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition was facing an uncertain future, as her hard-line 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.
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.
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.
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.

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.
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.


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 21 min 12 sec ago
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.