The new leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has unveiled plans for a tightening of immigration rules, part of a move to distance the party under her leadership from her mentor and predecessor, Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Some of the proposals, including plans for “intelligent spot checks” at German borders for as long as the European Union’s external borders are not secured, could strain ties with her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners.
However, officials hope that the plans, announced after two days of internal party discussions to which Merkel was not invited, will show the party has moved on from the chancellor’s signature decision to let in more than 1mn asylum-seekers and migrants in 2015.
“What happened in September 2015 and after was a humanitarian exception,” Kramp-Karrenbauer told her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party. “We must make sure nothing like it ever happens again, that we have learned our lessons.”
Within the coalition government, the migrant influx caused a crisis, with the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), threatening to end their decades-old alliance over migration and border control.
The state of Bavaria, on the southern border with Austria, is the main entry point for migrants attempting to enter Germany.
The rift last year contributed to Merkel’s exit as party leader.
Yesterday, presenting the results of the internal party talks, CDU parliamentarian Armin Schuster said the party would seek an additional 10,000 officers for the EU border protection agency Frontex by 2020.
Currently, EU countries have agreed to create this permanent reserve by 2025.
The party also wants asylum applications to be processed on the European Union’s external borders, Schuster said.
This would include carrying out deportations of unsuccessful applicants.
As long as the bloc’s external borders remain unprotected, Germany intends to carry out checks on its own borders “according to location and at times that make sense”, the party is planning to tell Brussels under its freshly drawn-up plan.
German federal police are also to have their remit widened to include fighting against unauthorised stays in Germany.
The efficacy of Germany’s deportation procedure was also called into question.
“Here we have a problem: The majority of deportations are not carried out,” said Thomas Strobl, CDU interior minister in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where two in every three deportations are unsuccessful.
Deportees could be detained sooner ahead of their return trip, not in overnight raids on the day of their departure, as is currently the case, Strobl suggested.
He also wants to see rejected asylum-seekers only given one chance at appeal in order to bring about a “colossal acceleration” of the asylum appeals process.
Both coalition parties – the CDU and the SPD – are gearing up for four European and regional elections this year which could determine the fate of the loveless marriage they sealed after both seriously underperformed expectations at last year’s election, leaving theirs the only possible alliance in a fragmented parliament.
Like the CDU, the SPD has been trying to rebuild support, pushing for more generous unemployment benefits and pensions – appealing to some of its core voters, but anathema to the CDU’s pro-business wing.
Despite the tensions, the SPD’s dire position in polls has led many to assume the coalition will last its course.
“I expect that the grand coalition will carrying on governing until 2021,” said Christian Lindner, leader of the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) in an interview with Reuters. “That is not what I would like but it is what I expect.”
The CDU’s planned reset was somewhat overshadowed when Kramp-Karrenbauer, whose centrism already has her regarded with suspicion by her party’s arch-conservatives, bungled her welcoming remarks, causing embarrassed laughter when she referred to her own party as the “Social Democrats”.
German media jumped on the slip-up – the tabloid Bild called it an “embarrassing mishap” – and the SPD poked fun at Kramp-Karrenbauer, dubbed AKK after her initials, by offering “solidarity” and reminding her to address party colleagues as “comrade”, the SPD’s customary greeting.
Kramp-Karrenbauer’s election as CDU leader put her in pole position to become Germany’s next chancellor and she is trying to put her own stamp on the party.
Merkel has said she will not seek re-election after this parliamentary term, ending in 2021.
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