Merkel’s interior minister could join anti-migrant axis with Austria and Italy

MATTHIAS BALK

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and CSU Party Chief and Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer in discussion at the CSU Party Congress in Munich, Germany

Merkel’s interior minister could join anti-migrant axis with Austria and Italy


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German Chancellor Angela Merkel is currently locked in a bitter dispute over European migration policy with her own interior minister as she is hoping to head off the formation of a possible far-right, anti-migrant alliance led by her government’s cabinet member for home affairs, Horst Seehofer, who is looking to join Austria’s right-wing Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Italy’s new foreign minister and leader of the ultranationalist Lega party, Matteo Salvini, in taking a hardline stance on Europe’s refugee policy which could lead to the closing of the EU’s borders to illegal immigrants.

The German government is split between two policy lines, one advocated by Seehofer and his Bavarian Christian Social Union), who are actively building a coalition of Eurosceptic parties across the EU Member States, and one that advocates for a moderate pan-European solution led by Merkel.

Seehofer recently phoned Salvini and offered his support for his criticism French President Emmanuel Macron‘s even-handed approach to dealing with the migrant crisis in Europe. Seehofer reportedly proposed that his and Salvini’s party work on coordinating a joint plan to “defend the EU’s external borders”.

Austria’s Kurz offered his support for the initiative on June 13 when he quoted Seehofer’s “master plan” and called for a “coalition of the willing” against migration, a gesture that was seen as a public rebuke of both Merkel and Macron’s approach to the migration issue.

Austria is about to assume the EU Presidency, which could provide a platform for the anti-migrant axis a prospect that Merkel will not welcome just prior to the EU summit set for June 28-29.

The migration issue is shaping up into a constitutional crisis for Merkel as negotiations between Bavarian Premier Markus Söder and Hesse Premier Volker Bouffier are locked in a debate with the head of the Chancellery, Helge Braun, as the two premiers are demanding the devolution of asylum policy to grant individual German states the mandate to either provide international protection to applicants or have them deported.

Both Söder and Bouffier are politically linked to Seehofer’s Christian Social Union.

Seehofer recently chose not to attend an annual integration event organised by the government, which came at a time Merkel appears unable to consolidate a single German government position that would oppose Seehofer’s stance on the migration issue.

Merkel is resisting pressure to allow either her ministers or her state premiers to pursue unilateral actions but is keen to appear conciliatory towards her junior partners in the coalition government. Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said on June 13 that Berlin wants to support Italy in facing the Mediterranean migrant crisis, but said the support would come in the form of a “European solution” for the crisis.

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