Coalition ultimatum over Germany's refugee policy


Government’s Bavarian partner demands restrictions on migration as refugees flood state from Austria

BERLIN – The junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government issued an ultimatum Tuesday over Germany’s open-door policy on refugees.

Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer, who heads the Christian Social Union, gave Merkel until Sunday to take steps to restrict migration and open talks with Austria over its practice of diverting refugees to Germany.

“By All Saints’ Sunday, we will be able to understand whether Berlin is ready to accept our demand for controlling and limiting migration,” Seehofer said in an interview with the Passauer Neuen Presse newspaper.

“If my efforts are not successful then we will have to consider what options… we have.”

Seehofer did not specify the possible action Bavaria — Germany’s largest state — might take if his warning was not heeded.

His conservative Bavarian party has 45 seats in the German parliament and forms the coalition government with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.

Early this month, Seehofer said Bavaria may start turning refugees back from the Austrian border and threatened to file a legal complaint against federal government.

Around 318,000 refugees entered Bavaria in the last two months, according to the state government.

Seehofer urged Berlin on Tuesday to use its influence over Austria to stop diverting refugees to Germany.

“The most important measure, which should be immediately taken, would be a telephone call by Chancellor Merkel to Austrian Chancellor [Werner] Faymann,” Seehofer said.

“It was only a telephone conversation between the chancellors on Sept. 4 that led to the opening of the border.”

Germany opened its borders to refugees last month as thousands of refugees crossed Europe, many heading for its cities. Around 230,000 asylum seekers came to Germany in September, nearing the figure for the whole of 2014, when 280,000 arrived.

The German government is expecting around 1 million refugees by the end of the year.

Merkel is yet to comment on Seehofer’s comments but called for patience in finding a solution to the refugee crisis. “We cannot turn the switch all at once,” Merkel said at a news conference Tuesday.

The chancellor said cooperation with Turkey was key to tackling the crisis and said she hoped for intensified talks after Turkey’s Nov. 1 general election.

“After these elections, we can also intensify our bilateral visits,” she said. “I firmly believe that the refugee influx can only be diminished by the collective action of the EU, Greece and Turkey.”