BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel survived a bruising challenge to her authority with a compromise deal on immigration but faced charges Tuesday that it spelt a final farewell to her welcoming stance toward refugees.
In high-stakes crisis talks overnight, Merkel had put to rest for now a dangerous row with her hardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer that had threatened the survival of her fragile coalition government.
In separate statements, Merkel praised the “very good compromise” that she said spelt a European solution, while Seehofer withdrew a resignation threat and gloated that “it’s worth fighting for your convictions”.
In a pact both sides hailed as a victory, Merkel and Seehofer agreed to tighten border controls and set up closed holding centres to allow the speedy processing of asylum seekers and the repatriations of those who are rejected.
They would either be sent back to EU countries that previously registered them or, in case arrival countries reject this — likely including frontline state Italy — be sent back to Austria, pending an agreement with Vienna.
CSU general secretary called the hardening policy proposal the last building block “in a turn-around on asylum policy” after a mass influx brought over one million migrants and refugees.
But criticism and doubts were voiced quickly by other parties and groups, suggesting Merkel may only have won a temporary respite.
Refugee support group Pro Asyl slammed what it labelled “detention centres in no-man’s land” and charged that German power politics were being played out “on the backs of those in need of protection”.
Bernd Riexinger of the opposition far-left Die Linke party spoke of “mass internment camps” as proof that “humanity got lost along the way” and urged Merkel’s other coalition ally, the Social Democrats (SPD), to reject the plan.
SPD leader Andrea Nahles voiced cautious support but said her party needed to discuss “many questions” on the plan with its experts before holding a joint party meeting with the CDU/CSU bloc at 1600 GMT Tuesday.
One of the SPD’s migration experts, Aziz Bozkurt, was withering, charging that the proposed holding centres would be “impractical and fully on track with the AfD” — the far-right party that has railed most loudly against immigrants.