Germany's policy on immigration crisis enters a critical phase this week with the political future of Chancellor Angela Merkel and the waves that are being felt across Europe.
Merkel met with high-ranking members of her Christian Democratic Union at the party headquarters in Berlin on Sunday night to plan the response to an ultimatum established by her Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, to order immigrants expelled from the German border in direct contradiction with the chancellor.
Seehofer's party, one of the three in Merkel's coalition, is about to take Merkel within two weeks to obtain a European agreement that facilitates the return of migrants to the countries in which they registered for the first time time. The suit will be supported at a meeting of the Christian Social Union executive in Munich on Monday, according to the Bild newspaper. Meanwhile, Merkel must decide whether to dismiss Seehofer for insubordination and risk a dispute with his Bavarian brother party.
The result is "the worst crisis of its almost 13 years in office" for Merkel, said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg in London. "If the Bavarian CSU does not accept any commitment on migration policy, its current government could collapse shortly." He added, however, that he thought that scenario was "unlikely."
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The deadline given to Merkel by her smaller Bavarian ally shows how emboldened she feels when the Hungarian governments go to Italy, Austria and the United Kingdom they adopt hardline positions for the protection of national borders. Even with an abrupt drop in numbers crossing Europe through the Mediterranean, migration has risen to the top of the political agenda, with the proliferation of unilateral measures that erode the EU's ties of unity.
Migration is "a European challenge that requires a European response," Merkel said in her weekly podcast published on Saturday. "I consider it one of the most decisive issues to keep Europe together."
Insists that Germany's unilateral action would unleash a broader crisis and will now use the lead-up to the EU summit from June 28 to 29 to try and forge some kind of agreement.
The government of the Five Stars of Italy is already signaling its intention to defy the international convention by refusing the port to the refugee ships, in the process stoking tensions with France, Spain and Malta. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini raised the stakes during the weekend and said that Italy will not allow two ships allegedly to bring immigrants and asylum seekers from Libya to reach their coasts.
The German chancellor will hold talks with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Berlin on Monday. Then, Merkel will discuss the migration with French President Emmanuel Macron during a joint cabinet meeting at a government retreat outside of Berlin on Tuesday.
The impossibility of reaching an agreement that could be presented as an advance at European level could precipitate a total crisis in Germany that could overthrow Merkel after almost 13 years as chancellor. His disappearance is likely to boost authoritarian governments in Eastern Europe, undermine the new humanitarian stance of the Spanish government on migration and put Macron's plans for reform in the euro zone at risk.
Still, given what is at stake, one weekend the talks between the CSU and Merkel's largest Christian Democratic Union resulted in a softer tone on each side. The CSU is defending its majority rule in Bavaria in the regional elections in October and is concerned about the risk of hemorrhaging support for the Anti-Migration Alternative for Germany. It is not looking for an internal coalition crisis, said Seehofer.
"Nobody in the CSU has any interest in overthrowing the chancellor, in dissolving the union of the CDU-CSU or in breaking the coalition," he said. Seehofer in an interview with the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
Merkel's two-week window marks a threat from Seehofer to reject immigrants as early as Monday. However, only the inevitable can differ.
"Undoubtedly, a CDU-CSU break would cause problems for both parties, so my money is still in a compromise," said Unicredit Chief Economist badyst Erik Nielsen. Anyway, he said, "that Merkel's authority is under threat is clear."
– With the badistance of Charles Penty, Daniele Lepido and Charlotte Ryan