Merkel on tightrope over disputed migrant policy



German Chancellor Angela Merkel was fighting Tuesday to stamp out the first major row within her uneasy coalition, as disputes over her refugee policy returned to haunt her while she negotiates a broad EU asylum deal.
The discord within her conservative bloc burst into the open when Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of Merkel's Bavarian allies CSU hastily cancelled plans to present his "masterplan" on immigration.
The interior ministry said in a short statement that the presentation had been pushed back because "several points still need to be agreed".
Seehofer, the former premier of conservative Bavaria state, has long been one of the fiercest critics of Merkel's decision to open Germany's borders at the height of Europe's migration crisis in 2015.
The migrant influx has shaped German politics since. Voters handed Merkel her worst ever score in September's elections as well as giving the far-right AfD seats for the first time in the Bundestag.
With a crucial state election in Bavaria coming up in October, Seehofer and his Christian Social Union party are anxious to stop a haemorrhage of support to the anti-migrant and Islamophobic AfD.
The CSU's strategy is underpinned by Seehofer's 63-point immigration plan, anchored by the key proposal to push migrants back across the border.
Standing his ground late Monday, Seehofer stressed that all 63 points of his plan "are in my view necessary in order to restore control and order in Germany."
He added that he would not "publish a half-baked plan with lazy compromises."
Underlining what is at stake, broadcaster Deutschlandfunk said if no deal is found, "the choices there for the interior minister would be resignation or dismissal."
"That of course, would be the end of the coalition," it added.
- 'They must be turned back' -
The arrival of more than a million asylum seekers, many fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq, since 2015 has deeply divided Germany.
Three years after the migration crisis erupted, the inflow has slowed dramatically but the coalition is still bickering over what would be a sustainable solution.
Within Merkel's CDU party too, some are openly championing Seehofer's vision.
"The masterplan is important now and it must be implemented quickly," said Saxony premier Michael Kretschmer.
"Of course they must be turned back at the border. That's why we have police at the border and it is right to have them there," said the CDU politician.
But Merkel won't accept turning refugees back, as it would simply shift the problem to Germany's neighbours.
Germany must not act "along individual national lines," she said.
For the chancellor, the only sustainable solution would be a Europe-wide agreement.
That is a point she will likely push when she meets later Tuesday with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country would be hardest hit if Germany were to close its doors.
Ironically though, Kurz shares Seehofer's criticism of Merkel's refugee policy and is due to meet the interior minister on Wednesday.
Merkel has the backing for now of the third party in her coalition, the Social Democratic Party. It too rejects stepping up border controls of asylum seekers, which it says goes against the spirit of the Schengen passport-free zone.
- 'Wait for reform' -
But the refugee influx has not only influenced electoral decisions in Europe's biggest economy. It has also pushed voters to the arms of populists and the far-right in Austria and Italy.
Signalling increasing frustration with new arrivals, Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini flatly refused to allow a rescue vessel carrying hundreds of migrants to dock on Monday.
Demands from the populist and far-right leaning forces are complicating Merkel's push for EU solidarity in dealing with immigration issues. The issue is to be covered at a summit on June 28 and 29.
With Austria taking over the rotating presidency of the EU on July 1, Merkel is hoping to convince Kurz to sign up to a system of "flexible solidarity" and help put in place an effective European border police.
EU budget commissioner Guenther Oettinger of Merkel's CDU called on Seehofer for patience.
"It would be good if Germany waits to see what the reform of the Dublin rules in Brussels brings, before it takes one-sided measures," he told newspaper group Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland, referring to regulations surrounding asylum-seeking procedures in the bloc.
The murder of a girl in Wiesbaden is polarizing the debate about refugees and criminality. The brutal crime is just the latest in which an asylum seeker is the chief suspect.
Germany, June 2018. If you want to measure the political mood in the country, look at the streets of Mainz this weekend.
More than half a dozen demonstrations and ceremonies took place in response to the murder and suspected rape of 14-year-old Susanna by a young Iraqi man. Some marched to protest against criminal refugees and illegal immigration. Others marched against prejudice and racism.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) called for a protest vigil under the motto "that's enough!" Three years after the refugee crisis, a deep rupture divides Germany.
 The Wilkommenskultur has become a culture of rage. "Wir schaffen das" - Merkel's famous refrain when refugees arrived in 2015 - has become "us against them".
The Susanna case has reminded people of the tragedy in Freiburg, a picturesque town in southern Germany where a refugee raped a young woman and left her to drown. It is also reminiscent of a murder in Kandel, where prosecutors say that an Afghani asylum-seeker stabbed a 15-year-old girl to death. In all three cases, the pattern appears the same: a brutal crime, a dead girl, an accused refugee.
Every case has stirred up more indignation and rage - and with each crime the suspicion that we are talking about more than just individual cases grows.
"These are no longer isolated incidents", warns Susanne Schröter, an ethnologist and head of the Research Centre of Global Islam at the Goethe University in Frankfurt. She speaks of a culture clash and says that Germany needs to develop a new approach for dealing with aggressive men shaped by patriarchal cultures.
The key facts of the Susanna F. case apparently confirm the view points of the harshest critics of Germany's refugee policies.
The killer was an Iraqi man, who applied for asylum in Germany in vain and who then used legal methods to prevent his deportation. He had multiple run-ins with the police due to violent behaviour and had even been linked to the rape of an eleven-year old girl. Nonetheless, after the murder, he was able to escape to his homeland with his whole family - despite the fact that he was a suspect.
Bild tabloid, which was one of the most vocal supporters of Angela Merkel's refugee policy in 2015, demanded in an editorial that the federal government ask Susanna's family for forgiveness.
On Sunday, Merkel called the crime and "abominable murder" that must be decisively prosecuted. AfD parliamentary chairperson Alice Weidel responded by accusing the Chancellor of cynicism. She said that the government needs to "immediately and without exception get all criminal migrants, and all of those without the right to stay, out of the country."
But the exact circumstances of the murder of Susanna F. still remain unexplained. And even before she has been buried, she is being used by far-right politicians as a symbol to attack Merkel's refugee policies.
The AfD orchestrated a minute of silence in the Bundestag last week and demanded that the Chancellor resign. Under the hashtag #Susanna, Twitter users are unleashing venom against refugees.
The emotional reactions to the case illustrate how Germany has changed. Back in the autumn of 2015 there were warnings that the mood in the population could change fast. It did in fact change on New Year's Eve 2015, when over one thousand women reported being sexually assaulted in a crowd at Cologne cathedral.

The Susanna F. case evokes the spectre of a loss of control, an overwhelmed state that no longer has a handle on asylum policy - this is all happening in a society that sets a high value on law and order.
Compounding the sense of a failing asylum policy is an ongoing scandal over abuses in the federal migration office - the Bremen branch is suspected of wrongly approving over a thousand asylum applications in return for bribes. Meanwhile the approval process for asylum requests is being re-evaluated in several other state migration offices.
Susanna F.'s mother, meanwhile, has accused police investigators of grave failures. She reported her daughter as missing one day after her disappearance. A week later, she got a message from a female acquaintance, reporting that the girl's corpse was lying on a train track. Only then did the authorities begin their manhunt. But at first they didn't question the acquaintance who gave the tip, because she was on a short vacation with her mother.
It was in fact a 13-year-old boy who gave the decisive information. He told investigators about the possible scene of the crime - and named Ali B. as the potential murderer. The boy is also an asylum seeker, and lived at the same camp as Ali B.