Merkel’s deal

Angela Merkel, now in her fourth term as German Chancellor, has weathered many crises without jeopardising the stability of the government in Berlin, or the integrity of the eurozone. After an inconclusive election in September 2017, she held firm against the demands of smaller parties that seemed incompatible with her moderate and accommodative stance. In March, the initially reluctant centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) saw wisdom in reviving the grand coalition with Ms. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union as the only realistic option to avert another poll. This week she resolved a row on the refugee question that could have ended the CDU’s 70-year alliance with its sister party from Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, and risked her government’s fall. Horst Seehofer, the Interior Minister from the CSU, wanted migrants to be immediately turned back to the country of their original registration in the European Union. The Chancellor held that the proposal was at odds with the bloc’s principle of free movement as embodied in the Schengen passport-free zone and would undermine EU unity. Under the latest compromise, asylum seekers registered outside Germany would be accommodated in transit centres on the border with Austria and sent directly to the respective states. The step represents a victory for Mr. Seehofer, a staunch opponent of the open-doors approach on migration who had threatened to resign form his party and government positions. The compromise is a further dilution of Ms. Merkel’s bold 2015 move to allow about a million refugees into Germany, which was subsequently softened by setting annual limits to curb inflows. As a junior partner in the current coalition, the SPD had expressed scepticism over the latest proposal, insisting that it fell outside the scope of the original agreement with the CDU. While echoing the concern that the transit centres not be reduced to internment camps, Ms. Merkel has given an assurance that people could not be held for long periods under the country’s constitution.

Clearly, Germany’s major mainstream parties are faced with the dangers that liberal and centrist forces are up against across the EU and elsewhere. The number of refugee arrivals into Germany has fallen significantly since 2016. But the issue has acquired renewed urgency in view of elections scheduled for October in Bavaria. The CSU is anxious to arrest the erosion of its popular base in favour of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and has been lurching further to the right itself. The perilous consequences of that slant have been evident in several EU states, the hollowing out of the political middle-ground and strengthening of extreme forces. On the other hand, the reality of mass immigration today calls for a concerted approach on conflict resolution and respect for the rule of law.

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