BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains firmly opposed to unilateral moves to turn some refugees back at the border — as demanded by conservative allies in her own government — her spokesman said Friday, warning such action would weaken the European Union.
Tempers within the government have frayed over the issue in recent days and the dispute has raised questions over Merkel’s future, as nationalist forces already in power elsewhere in Europe turn up the heat on the long-serving chancellor for her welcoming stance toward migrants.
Among Merkel’s sharpest critics is Bavarian governor Markus Soeder, whose Christian Social Union is taking an increasingly hard line ahead of a state election this fall, even though it forms part of the governing coalition at the national level.
Soeder and his party’s leader, Horst Seehofer — Germany’s interior minister — want to send police to the southern border to turn back migrants who have registered as asylum-seekers in other European countries. Merkel has warned that such a move could shift the burden onto countries such as Italy and Greece that have struggled to cope with the influx of migrants coming across the Mediterranean.
“We must not contribute to weakening the European Union and purely national measures setting the tone again in Europe,” said Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert.
“Then Europe wouldn’t play the strong role in the world that’s required now,” he told reporters in Berlin
In a sign of how jittery the German establishment has become, a hoax tweet suggesting Seehofer had broken up his party’s decades-old alliance with Merkel’s conservatives was picked up widely by German media, briefly sending the euro currency into a nosedive against the dollar.
Other members of Merkel’s government turned to name-calling Friday, with Andrea Nahles, the leader of Germany’s center-left Social Democrats, accusing Soeder of “behaving like a bonsai Trump.”
Nahles said her party, which is also a member of the governing coalition in Berlin, backs Merkel’s call for a Europe-wide consensus on how to tackle the issue of irregular migration.
“We won’t allow the panic of the (Bavarian) state government to take all of Germany and Europe hostage,” she said.
Soeder says his party, which is fearful of losing voters to the far-right Alternative for Germany in the Bavarian election on Oct. 14, wants to “put the needs of our population center-stage.”
His words echo those of populist politicians in other European countries such as Austria, Britain and Italy, where fear of migrants has tilted politics to the right in recent years.
Commentators in Germany have noted that the spat is one of the biggest crises for Merkel, who was recently elected for a fourth term with only a narrow majority. However it ends, this week’s crisis has underlined that there are limits to her power.
Wolfgang Bosbach, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, told broadcaster n-tv on Friday that some in her party side with Soeder on the issue. Soeder’s CSU and Merkel’s CDU campaign together in national elections and have a joint group in the national parliament.
The German government has already imposed numerous measures to reduce the influx of refugees since 2015, when the number of migrants coming to Germany peaked follow Merkel’s decision not to close the border to people coming through Hungary and Austria.
The country of some 80 million now sees about 11,000 new asylum-seekers per month. Of these, some 30 percent could end up being turned back at the border if current European Union rules on asylum are applied, according to German officials.
Germany’s finance minister, a Social Democrat, seemed to suggest that further intrigue within the coalition could end in a bloodbath.
“The task of governing our country isn’t an episode of Game of Thrones, but a serious matter,” Olaf Scholz said on Twitter. “All those involved should never forget this.”
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