What German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s U-turn on migrants means

There are concerns that Merkel’s compromise formula could have a cascading effect, with other European Union countries rethinking the bloc’s control-free travel policy.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi | Updated: July 5, 2018 8:41:19 am
angela merkel, germany, coalition, cdu, spd, indian express German chancellor Angela Merkel. (File)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has reached a deal with a coalition partner in an effort to end a row over immigration that had threatened to break her four-month-old coalition government. A look at the deal and its implications:

What is this latest row about?
It started with pressure mounted by Merkel’s interior minister Horst Seehofer, the leader of the conservative Christian Social Union and a partner in the ruling coalition along with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. Seehofer demanded that Merkel close Germany’s border to “secondary migrants” — those who enter the European Union, say into Italy or Greece, and then travel across the EU’s open borders into Germany. Seehofer threatened to resign if Merkel failed to check these migrants, a stand that had the potential to collapse the ruling coalition and end Merkel’s 13-year reign.

Has Merkel averted the crisis?
Yes, to an extent. On Monday, she announced a compromise deal as part of which she agreed to tighten controls along Germany’s border with Austria. Under Germany’s existing open-door policy, all asylum seekers are allowed to enter the country “while they wait for their cases to be reviewed”, but that could now change. Under the deal, Germany will set up camps along the Austrian border to house secondary migrants while their status is reviewed. Any migrant who has already applied for asylum in a different European Union country (Italy, Greece, Spain) will be deported to that country.

But the deal depends on whether the third member of Merkel’s governing coalition, the centre-left Social Democratic Party, clears it. The party has previously criticised plans for “mass-internment camps”. If the SDP rejects the deal, Merkel may have to come up with an entirely different compromise option. If she fails to do so, it could even bring down the government.

Why is this significant?
There are concerns that Merkel’s compromise formula could have a cascading effect, with other European Union countries rethinking the bloc’s control-free travel policy. Italy’s new government is already considered at risk of leaving the EU altogether. Austria has said it would tighten its southern borders if Germany went ahead with the plan. That could trigger more border checks across the EU’s Schengen zone.

Besides, there is tremendous significance attached to Merkel’s decision. A strong advocate for open borders since the onset of the European migrant crisis in 2015, Merkel had staked her legacy on upholding the European Union. A core tenet of the bloc is to maintain open borders among EU states.

What is the extent of migration into Germany?
New arrivals to Germany and Europe have, in fact, dropped off almost entirely. For instance, more than 850,000 asylum seekers had arrived in Greece in 2015, with most of them eventually making their way to northern European countries like Germany; so far this year, a little more than 13,000 have made the same journey.

Why, then, has this come up now?
Many point to the October elections in Bavaria, a region sometimes described as the Texas of Germany because of its affluent areas and conservatism. Bavaria borders Austria. According to vox.com, Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far-right, anti-immigration party, is gaining support in the region and Seehofer fears a loss of legitimacy if he lets AfD walk away with the anti-immigration pitch.

“What’s happening now has nothing to do with content,” Nils Diederich, a political science professor at the Free University Berlin, told The Washington Post. “It’s solely aimed at the upcoming Bavarian state elections.” —Compiled from NYT and agency reports

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