German coalition talks on refugee crisis end without deal

Pro-asylum seeker graffiti, Berlin. [Thomas Rassloff/Flickr]

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her coalition partners ended a meeting on Sunday (1 November) without a breakthrough to resolve differences over how to handle the flood of refugees pouring into Germany.

Berlin expects between 800,000 and a million migrants to arrive in Germany this year, twice as many as in any previous year, and far more than in any other European Union country.

German media had billed Sunday’s meeting between Merkel, the leader of her conservatives’ Bavarian sister party, and Social Democrat (SPD) chief Sigmar Gabriel as a crisis summit between the ruling coalition partners.

>>Read: Bavarian allies heap pressure on Merkel over refugees

But Gabriel left the chancellery looking glum after the 2-hour meeting.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert described the talks as “constructive” but said the three party leaders would meet again on Thursday.

“There is a lot of common ground and some points that remain open and still to be settled,” Steffen said, adding that these included the idea of introducing so-called “transit zones” at border crossings to process asylum requests.

>>Read: Seehofer attacks Merkel and Austria over migrant crisis

Horst Seehofer, leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), wants tougher action to stem the flow of people.

Bavaria is bearing the brunt of the influx and Seehofer is under intense pressure from municipalities in his state to press the federal government to stem the tide of arrivals from war- and poverty-stricken areas of the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Seehofer has issued a series of ultimatums to Merkel in recent weeks, including a threat to take the government to court over its policies on migrants, only to back down at the last minute.

Some CSU members want to tighten or even close Germany’s borders.

To defuse the coalition tensions, conservative officials had expected Seehofer to come away from Sunday’s meeting with a deal to introduce transit zones. Some SPD members have said they would not agree to such zones. The conservatives have had to deny that such centres would resemble concentration camps.

Falling popularity

The infighting between the CDU and CSU conservative allies has damaged their standing. A weekly survey by pollster Emnid put support for the CDU/CSU steady at 36%, but still far below the 43% the allies enjoyed as recently as August.

Gabriel’s SPD fell one percentage point to 25%, the poll showed. The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party gained one point to 8%.

Gabriel said last month that Germany must win over refugee sceptics or else risk “planting social explosives in our nation”, and Germany’s police chief has said the uncontrolled refugee influx poses a domestic security threat.

CDU officials say Seehofer unnerves their base with rhetoric about the refugee crisis. CSU officials counter that Merkel, who this month will celebrate her 10th anniversary as chancellor, has lost touch with voters by sticking to the open-door refugee policy she has pursued with the catch phrase: “We can do this!”