Angela Merkel has held the office of Chancellor of Germany for 10 years, but debates over immigration have her in a precarious position politically, and some say it could mean the end of her tenure at the top. At the heart of the matter is a disagreement between Merkel and her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, about how to respond when migrants who have registered as asylum seekers or applied for asylum elsewhere in the European Union (EU) reach the German border.
The two belong to different political parties. Seehofer is a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU) and Merkel is a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), according to Time. As such, their rivalry is longstanding. The chancellor’s decision in 2015 to open German borders to a million refugees has added fuel to that rivalry.
Horst Seehofer wants to turn the migrants away while Merkel believes that goes against the principles of the EU by adding pressure to Italy and Greece and weakening the entire EU according to a report from the Associated Press. While the interior minister has the power to do what he wants on immigration even if it’s contrary to the wishes of the chancellor, to do so would be to risk his job and the current union between the CDU and the CSU. This would pose larger problems with the next election, and Merkel barely won the last election. Also of note in the 2017 election is the fact that the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AFD) won 13 percent of the vote, an indication of rising anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany.
Immigration rows: US and Germany compared https://t.co/EDrlV6sCVQ— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) June 18, 2018
All of this means that it’s in the best interest of both Seehofer and Merkel to come to a peaceful agreement. So each has given a bit. Seehofer has agreed to wait on making a final decision until the EU summit at the end of June where Angela Merkel will seek support for her position from the rest of the EU. He won’t wait longer than two weeks, however. If Merkel doesn’t come back from the summit with enough support for her position on immigration, Seehofer can tell border agents to turn away the migrants at the center of his disagreement with Angela Merkel. She has stated, however, that there is no clear path if she is unable to gain support at the EU summit. She said that on July 1, following the EU summit, her party would “decide how to proceed in light of what has been achieved.”
Gaining support from the EU will be no small feat for the German chancellor with growing anti-immigrant sentiment spreading in Europe. There was even a call for an “Axis of the willing” by Austria’s right-wing chancellor Sebastian Kurtz recently. The axis would fight for tougher border control. Add to that recent wins in Italy and Hungry by anti-immigrant candidates, and Angela Merkel has a tough fight ahead of her. She described her thoughts on immigration following a meeting of the CDU.
“We think that turning people back without consultation at our borders, as a country at the heart of Europe, could lead to negative domino effects that could also hurt Germany and ultimately lead to the questioning of European unity.”
It also means that the chancellor is leading a government that is on shaky ground. She remains optimistic, however, and when recently asked whether she is still in control and whether her government can function well until the end of her term in 2021, she answered, “Yes to both.”