Weakened Merkel to face judgment of her Bavarian allies

FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a news conference following the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political future rests in the hands of the Christian Social Union (CSU) on Sunday, when the Bavarian party’s leadership meets to decide whether to accept migration deals she brought back from Brussels.

Nine months after elections that saw her lose votes to the far right, a weakened Merkel was forced to turn to European Union neighbors to help resolve a conflict with her allies after they rebelled against her immigration policy.

The party’s leader, interior minister Horst Seehofer, threatened to turn migrants back from the Bavarian border, a move that would almost certainly precipitate a government collapse.

At a Brussels summit this week, leaders hammered out a deal to share out refugees on a voluntary basis and create “controlled centers” inside the European Union to process asylum requests.

Separately, Merkel announced deals with 16 EU countries for returning some refugees, and proposed setting up reception centers where others would undergo an accelerated asylum procedure, in a hardening of the open-door asylum policy she introduced in 2015.

Bavaria’s premier Markus Soeder, mindful of October regional elections in which he faces a stiff challenge from the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), took credit for pressuring Merkel to reach a deal.

“It goes absolutely in the right direction,” he said, but added he would keep up the pressure to obtain more clarity on the details.

While most analysts expect Merkel to survive the clash with the CSU, it is unlikely to be the last occasion on which the sister party seeks to distance itself from a chancellor it sees as too centrist for its own supporters.

Underlining the uncertainty over what had been agreed, Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban has positioned himself as Merkel’s nemesis in the immigration debate polarizing the continent, denied it had signed any agreement.

Although a document circulated by Merkel to her coalition partners said Hungary was one of 14 countries that had agreed “on a political level” to take back some migrants who had passed through other EU countries on their way to Germany, the government said it had signed no such deal.

The AfD, holding its party congress in Bavaria, where it hopes to take votes from the CSU in October, sought to capitalize on the confusion.

“She will fall, however much she flails her arms around,” he said, describing the Brussels deals as “so much hot air”.

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