Varying views on the migration crisis have led to disputes between the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Bavarian Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer. Although the German government crisis ended on July 2nd, with the ruling coalition overcoming a critical situation that could have led to the collapse the government, how it handles the migration situation remains a threat to political stability in Germany and to the European Union as a whole.
The terms of the agreement between Merkel and Seehofer include:
- Establishment of temporary, transit centres at the border between Germany and Austria, to host refugees registered in another EU country. Refugees staying in these shelters should be limited to two days only. This proposal has been declined by Austria.
- Launching refugee centres named “the dock” that provide accommodation for periods that can extend up to a year and a half. Refugees accommodated there should be forced to stay until decisions on their asylum requests are made. Then they will be allowed to move freely within Germany or forcibly deported.
The disputed terms between Merkel and Seehofer
- Temporary Centres and Border Control: this is about accommodating the refugees in temporary centres in the countries they had registered in the EU in a way to speed up the process of looking into their requests. Seehofer aims to establish six centres of this kind, but most of the German states refuse to host them.
- Protecting the Schengen Area: German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggests sending units of the German police to the outlying borders of the EU - in Bulgaria, for example - to minimize the number of refugees in the Schengen Area, refugees who are able to exploit the lax Schengen controls to reach Germany. Seehofer for his part insists on monitoring the internal borders of the Schengen Area, specifically with Austria.
Merkel had aimed to find a European solution for the migration crisis and also resolve her own disputes with the Minster of Interior in the EU summit in Brussels on June 29th, 2018. Her negative response to the Minister of the Interior after the summit led to a decrease in his support within the Christian Social Union of Bavaria party to 50%. Consequently, Merkel won 85% of the votes of her Christian Democratic Party and 88% of the votes of the Social Democratic Party, according to reports issued by those parties. Opinion polls before the Brussels summit showed that 60% of the German people think Merkel should resign.
Although Merkel’s crisis with the Minister of the Interior is over, the migration crisis remains a threat to Germany and the unity of the European Union.
Disagreements between EU member states at the Brussels summit
In the Brussels Summit, the EU member states agreed to receive the arriving migrants and refugees. The Italian and French suggested that arriving migrants be transferred to refugee centres in countries that accept hosting them temporarily. Germany had reached an agreement with Greece and Spain to return the immigrants. The EU summit concluded that migrant centres should be established in Europe and in North African countries to both receive and deport refugees.
The EU project of re-locating the migrants and refugees in Libya faces many challenges and seems to be beyond current EU capabilities. The EU is under criticism by human rights organizations for the Libya relocation project, and the Libyan authorities have rejected relocation of immigrants on its territory.
The immigration crisis has led to a polarisation among the EU member states, with at one end the emerging informal alliance between Austria, Italy and Denmark, a threatening right-wing cluster to the conservatives led by Merkel, who is also under pressure from the Bavarian Party opposition. The rest of the Western European countries remain spectators, with the Netherlands and Belgium needing to keep their borders open for commercial purposes.
Europe is currently faced with severe internal division on the issue of migration, between controlling the borders more effectively or implementing the Dublin Regulation to return asylum seekers to the country of their first arrival in the EU. The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, and the majority of Eastern European countries advocate the closure of borders.
Although the last EU Summit in Brussels ended with member states signing a joint agreement, discord was evident too, especially in the comments of the Hungarian and Polish governments, who denied that an agreement was reached during the Summit.