The leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies has reportedly rejected a deal she secured in Brussels last week to slash migration, escalating a crisis that threatens to bring down her conservative alliance.
Merkel has been under pressure for weeks from Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party of her centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
The CSU, which faces a stiff challenge from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in October’s regional polls, has been demanding a significant hardening of Germany immigration policy.
Amid the increasing tensions, Merkel and the rest of the European Union leaders hammered out on Friday a vaguely-worded deal to share out refugees on a voluntary basis and create “controlled centres” inside the bloc to process asylum requests.
CSU leaders gathered in Munich from 3pm (13:00 GMT) to decide their response to the EU deal.
Party sources told AFP news agency that Horst Seehofer, interior minister and leader of the CSU, told aides he was unhappy with the accord and complained to that he had endured a “conversation with no effect” with the chancellor on Saturday.
Reuters news agency also quoted a party source as saying that Seehofer saw no alternative to turning some migrants back at the country’s border.
Meanwhile, Merkel and her top aides from the CDU also met on Sunday in the capital, Berlin.
Earlier in the day, Merkel told broadcaster ZDF she would do “everything possible to achieve results that mean we can continue to assume responsibility for our country”, adding that “everyone knows the situation is serious” between her CDU and their CSU allies.
She reiterated her determination to act in a way that was “not unilateral and that are not to the detriment of third parties” – highlighting her continued opposition to proposals by Seehofer to turn back refugees at the border.
“The sum of all we’ve agreed is equivalent to what the CSU wants – that’s my personal view, but the CSU must decide for themselves,” she said.
“It is also sustainable and in accordance with the European ideal. Europe is slow, and we aren’t yet where we want to be… In my view, Europe will be held together, otherwise free movement could have been in danger,” she added.
Seehofer rejected her 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.
If he orders border police to go ahead with the scheme in defiance of the chancellor, Merkel would be forced to fire him, in turn prompting a CSU walkout that would cost her her majority in parliament.
Under the deal, EU leaders agreed to consider setting up “disembarkation platforms” outside the bloc, most likely in North Africa, in a bid to discourage migrants and refugees boarding EU-bound boats.
Member countries could also create processing centres 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 proposes that migrants arriving in Germany who first registered in another EU country should be placed in special “admission centres” under restrictive conditions, according to a document she sent to the CSU and coalition partners the Social Democratic Party (SPD).
A document circulated by Merkel to coalition allies on Friday night outlined repatriation agreements with 16 countries and proposed reception centres in Germany where migrants would undergo an accelerated asylum procedure – measures that represent a significant hardening of her 2015 open-door asylum policy.
But the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban has long sought to position himself as Merkel’s nemesis in the immigration debate polarising the continent, later said they had signed no bilateral agreements on repatriation.
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 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 find a workable coalition.
Opinion polls point to the AfD making a similarly spectacular entrance to Bavaria’s parliament in October.