As Chancellor Angela Merkel fights to save her government in a heated battle over immigration, an opinion poll yesterday showed that most Germans support the tougher line of her rebel interior minister.
The survey found that 62% of respondents are in favour of turning back undocumented migrants at the border, in line with the stance of Interior Minister Horst Seehofer who is openly challenging Merkel.
And 86% want faster deportations of rejected asylum-seekers, a process now often held up by bureaucratic hurdles and legal challenges, according to the Infratest dimap poll.
The survey turns up the pressure on Merkel, who has faced a backlash for allowing into Germany more than 1mn people fleeing war and misery in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere since 2015.
The mass influx sparked the rise of the far-right and anti-Islam Afd (Alternative for Germany) party, which entered parliament last September.
Merkel’s welcome to refugees also infuriated Seehofer and his Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party of her Christian Democrats (CDU) in the southern state of Bavaria, which became the main entry point for most migrants.
In an unprecedented split between the CDU and CSU, Seehofer has openly defied Merkel with a demand to allow border police to turn back migrants who lack valid identity papers or are already registered in another EU country.
The CSU’s Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder charged that the ongoing “asylum tourism” meant that, as a government, “we’re nearing the endgame when it comes to our credibility”.
“The people are running out of patience,” he told Bild daily.
Merkel argues that Germany must not take the sudden and unilateral step of rejecting asylum-seekers at the border, which would add to the burden faced by frontline countries like Italy and Greece.
She has pledged instead to seek bilateral agreements with arrival and transit countries and a wider solution by the EU, which holds its next summit on June 28-29, while admitting that this plan is “ambitious”.
The CSU – which faces an election threat from the AfD in October state polls – has refused to budge and set Merkel an effective ultimatum of Monday.
Seehofer will on that day seek CSU party backing to use his ministerial authority to order border police to turn back the asylum-seekers, in open defiance of Merkel.
For Merkel, in power for over 12 years, the stakes could not be higher as she leads an uneasy coalition government with a narrow majority that took half a year to cobble together.
If Seehofer decides to go it alone, Merkel would have to fire him, sparking an unprecedented CDU-CSU split, political scientist Heinrich Oberreuter told business daily Handelsblatt.
In that scenario, Merkel could lead a minority government with the third party in the coalition, the Social Democrats (SPD), or call fresh elections that would likely benefit only the AfD, he said.
Amid the chaos, the SPD’s Finance Minister Olaf Scholz called for cool heads to prevail, tweeting that “the task of governing our country is serious and not an episode of Game of Thrones”.
In a sign of the frayed nerves, Germany’s political and media world lurched into a brief panic yesterday as several media outlets fell for a hoax tweet claiming that Seehofer’s CSU was quitting the coalition.
The fake news was quickly debunked as originating from satirical magazine Titanic, but not before it had been picked up by some major media, causing immediate dips in the euro and stock market.
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