Merkel's coalition still patching gaps over migrant issue

BERLIN • German Chancellor Angela Merkel has failed to fully resolve differences within her ruling coalition over how to deal with the huge refugee influx, leaving open a row that has rocked her government.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert described talks between the three party leaders on Sunday as "constructive", but said they would meet again on Thursday.

Germany, Europe's biggest economy and long a magnet for migrants, expects between 800,000 and a million asylum seekers to arrive this year, twice as many as in any previous year, and far more than in any other European Union country.

The influx has opened divisions within the coalition, with the Bavarian sister party of Dr Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) wanting tougher action that many in the third ruling party, the Social Democrats (SPD), oppose.

"There is a lot of common ground and some points that remain open and still to be settled," Mr Seibert said, adding that these included the idea of introducing so-called "transit zones" at border crossings to process asylum requests.

Looking glum, SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel left after the two-hour meeting with Dr Merkel and Mr Horst Seehofer, leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU). Dr Merkel and Mr Seehofer stayed on and aligned their positions, but must now get the SPD on board.

Conservative officials welcomed the progress between the CDU and CSU, whose diverging views had raised tensions within the coalition.

Bavaria is bearing the brunt of the refugee arrivals and Mr Seehofer is under intense pressure in his state to press the federal government to stem the tide of people from war- and poverty-stricken areas of the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

As well as agreeing on the swift introduction of transit zones, the conservative allies floated plans to restrict the right of some migrants to have their families follow them to Germany, and called for joint police patrols along the Austrian border.

Deputy Finance Minister Jens Spahn, a conservative, said that no society could cope with 10,000 people arriving every day without controls, and praised the CDU/CSU accord on transit zones and cooperation with Austria.

However, some SPD members have said they would not agree to the transit zones, fearing a resemblance to concentration camps.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2015, with the headline 'Merkel's coalition still patching gaps over migrant issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe