Merkel's migrant deal faces EU resistance

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and Chancellor Angela Merkel have agreed to tighten border controls and set up closed "transit centres" to allow the speedy processing of asylum seekers.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and Chancellor Angela Merkel have agreed to tighten border controls and set up closed "transit centres" to allow the speedy processing of asylum seekers.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Austria vows to protect its borders as Germany decides to limit migrant arrivals

BERLIN • An 11th-hour deal clinched by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to rescue her fragile government by limiting migrant arrivals has run into European resistance, with neighbouring Austria vowing to "protect" its borders.

In high-stakes crisis talks overnight, Dr Merkel put to rest for now a dangerous row with Interior Minister Horst Seehofer that had threatened the survival of her shaky 100-day-old coalition.

A relieved-looking Dr Merkel, who has been in power since 2005, emerged from the late-night negotiations hailing a "very good compromise" that would "control" new arrivals of migrants and asylum seekers while upholding European Union cooperation and values.

However criticism from Vienna and her junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), yesterday threatened to throw a spanner in the works, just as Germany hoped to emerge from a crippling weeks-long political standstill.

If the agreement reached on Monday evening is approved by the German government as a whole, "we will be obliged to take measures to avoid disadvantages for Austria and its people", Austria's government said in a statement.

It added it would be "ready to take measures to protect our southern borders", in particular those with Italy and Slovenia.

The remarks raised the spectre of a domino effect in Europe, with member states taking increasingly restrictive measures to shut out refugees.

Under the pact, which Dr Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) led by Mr Seehofer hailed as a victory, both leaders have agreed to tighten border controls and set up closed "transit centres" to allow the speedy processing of asylum seekers and the repatriation of those who are rejected.

They would either be sent back to EU countries that previously registered them or, in case arrival countries reject this, they would be sent to Austria, pending a now questionable agreement with Vienna.

But doubts were voiced quickly by other parties and groups, accusing Dr Merkel of bidding a final farewell to her welcoming stance towards asylum seekers taken at the height of the influx in 2015.

Refugee support group Pro Asyl slammed what it labelled "detention centres in no-man's land" and said that German power politics were being played out "on the backs of those in need of protection".

Ms Annalena Baerbock of the opposition Greens party spoke of "internment camps", accusing the conservatives of "bidding goodbye to our country's moral compass".

SPD leader Andrea Nahles said yesterday after a party meeting that there are still "significant questions" on the deal. The Social Democrats were to hold a joint meeting with the CDU/CSU bloc later yesterday.

Mr Carsten Nickel, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London, said: "This (the deal) provides a break but it's not the end of the infighting."

The conflict's political driving forces, including a state election in Bavaria in October, "will remain with us for months to come", he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2018, with the headline 'Merkel's migrant deal faces EU resistance'. Print Edition | Subscribe