Asylum applications are sharply down in Germany. So is crime. Yet Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hold on power is again under threat over the issue of migration—one which has upended politics throughout Europe and across the Atlantic.
On Friday, Merkel clashed with her political allies in the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, and appeared on the verge of losing her coalition and potentially stepping down. Horst Seehofer, her CSU interior minister and a critic of her policy welcoming refugees, had proposed unilateral border controls to stem what many Germans see as uncontrolled migration into their country. Then, on Monday, Seehofer said he would give Merkel until June 28, the start of a two-day summit of EU leaders, to come up with a solution. There, Merkel hopes to forge an agreement on migrants with fellow EU leaders—though it is unclear how she can persuade them to embrace a common policy on an issue that has invigorated populist movements and anti-immigrant parties across Europe. Hungary and Poland have long opposed the EU’s policy toward migrants, and now have allies in both Austria and Italy.
At a news conference Monday in Berlin, Merkel said her party, the Christian Democratic Union, and the CSU, its longtime ally, both wanted to reduce immigration, but added there would be “no automatism” if an agreement with the EU proved unworkable—which is to say Germany will not unilaterally close its borders to some migrants. That almost guarantees a clash with Seehofer, who vowed Monday that if the EU failed to reach an agreement, Germany would start turning migrants back at the border. If Merkel, as chancellor, overrules that action, Seehofer would essentially resign, imperiling Merkel’s coalition government and plunging Germany into the kind of political chaos it has so far avoided.