Jun 19, 2018 | 14:15 GMT

4 mins read

Germany: Merkel Struggles With Immigration Policy

The Big Picture

Stratfor's 2018 Annual Forecast emphasized that immigration would be one of the main topics of discussion in the European Union this year, as countries would debate ways to reform the bloc's immigration rules and make it harder from economic migrants from Africa and the Middle East to reach the union. Ahead of a debate about the issue later this month, the German government is struggling to keep its government coalition together.

Immigration is once again shaping German politics. In recent days, the debate over how to deal with asylum seekers and economic migrants reaching Germany has led to frictions between Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Last week, prominent CSU member and German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer presented a plan to reject undocumented immigrants and migrants who have already applied for asylum elsewhere in the European Union at the German border. Merkel opposes this plan. On June 18, the CSU gave Merkel until the European Council meeting on June 28-29 to find a bloc-wide solution to the situation of immigrants reaching the European Union. But because immigration is a very divisive topic in the union, Merkel will struggle to find a deal with the other member countries in so little time.

Located in the south of Germany, Bavaria is one of the main entry points to Germany for immigrants trying to reach northern Europe. Bavaria is holding a regional election in October, and the governing CSU fears that it will lose votes to the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. As a result, the CSU is toughening its position on immigration, even if that comes at the cost of generating friction with Merkel's CDU.

Merkel does not have many options for how to resolve the conflict. She could fire Seehofer, but this would probably end the decadeslong alliance between the CDU and the CSU. Such a situation would force Merkel to lead a minority government, look for other allies in Parliament, such as the Green party, or hold an early election. Conversely, if Merkel accepts Seehofer's plan, it would cause a domino effect across the Balkans, as countries such as Austria and Slovenia could follow suit and close their own borders to migration.

Merkel's current strategy is to negotiate with both the CSU and the European Union. The CSU has already given Merkel some time and has suggested that its plans could be enforced only gradually and for a smaller cohort of immigrants — for example, immigrants whose asylum application has already been rejected in Germany and are looking to apply a second time. Meanwhile, in advance of the European Council meeting, Merkel met with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on June 18 and French President Emmanuel Macron on June 19 to discuss reforming EU migration rules. Most member states agree that the European Union should do more to prevent people from even reaching the bloc. Among the potential methods to achieve this will be proposals to strengthen Frontex (the European Union's border control agency), to increase funding for countries of origin and transit of immigrants (particularly in Africa), and to design a more centralized migration system for the entire bloc. Countries like France and Italy have also proposed opening EU immigration centers in some African countries, but the idea may not be enough to discourage people from trying to make it to the European Union.

Even if Merkel can reach an agreement with the CSU, migration will continue to be an important topic both in Germany and across the European Union. While the arrival of people to the European Union by sea has dropped significantly in recent years — from more than a million in 2015 to roughly 172,000 in 2017 — nationalist, populist and right-wing parties still use immigration as a tool to win votes. Should the European Union fail to reach a comprehensive agreement on immigration, these parties will continue to grow and endanger the continuity of entities such as the Schengen agreement, which eliminated border controls within the European Union.

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