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A Compromise On Migration Keeps Germany's Merkel In Power

Jul 2, 2018
Originally published on July 2, 2018 6:31 pm

Under the deal, migrants registered in other European Union countries will be held in transit centers as Germany negotiates their return. The country's rebellious interior minister had threatened to quit and pull his party from Angela Merkel's coalition government if the German chancellor did not take a harder line on asylum seekers.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Germany now, where Chancellor Angela Merkel has reached a compromise with her rebellious interior minister over migration. It's a deal that will keep their coalition government together and keep Chancellor Merkel in power. The interior minister, Horst Seehofer, had threatened to quit, threatened to pull his Christian Social Union party out of the coalition if Merkel didn't take a harder line on asylum seekers. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is following this story for us in Berlin. Hey there, Soraya.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So Merkel's job is safe for now. What exactly did these two agree to?

NELSON: They agreed to set up what they're calling transit centers on the German side of the German - or, if you will, Bavarian-Austrian border so that when migrants who try to cross - they would have to go to these centers, be quickly evaluated. And if they don't qualify for asylum in Germany or at least to apply for asylum in Germany, they would be sent back to the EU countries they've already come from or where they have claims. And for those who wouldn't be taken back by those countries, they would go back to Austria because Austria would have been the last EU country they came from.

But there's a pretty big caveat. All of it requires the consent of the countries in question. So Chancellor Merkel said that the compromise was really good considering the tough negotiations and difficult days.

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CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking German).

NELSON: She says the deal maintains the spirit of the EU partnership. And at the same time, it's a divisive - I'm sorry - decisive step toward dealing with asylum seekers who don't belong in Germany. And that's exactly what she always wanted.

KELLY: All right. So that's what Merkel's saying. What about Horst Seehofer, who has been leading this mutiny against the chancellor? What's he saying about this deal?

NELSON: Well, he too said it was a clear and very tenable agreement and claims that it conforms to his goals.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HORST SEEHOFER: (Speaking German).

NELSON: He said it once again proves that it's worthwhile to fight for one's convictions and that this agreement allows him to continue as interior minister.

KELLY: OK. So how do we reconcile this? That we're hearing that they say it's a clear deal - it's a decisive deal - but they nearly collapsed the government over this fight. Who actually blinked here, Soraya?

NELSON: Well, I think the prevailing wisdom is that Seehofer did because, in the end, he had hoped - or what he wanted Merkel to do and what he said he was going to quit over was to close that border to certain migrants. In other words, if somebody shows up, they get sent back - none of this transit center stuff which has been discussed since 2015 and in fact is similar to the anchor centers that was discussed at the EU deal. So he basically is agreeing to something that already had been agreed to. So that's what many of the analysts and politicians are saying so far.

KELLY: A question that occurs to me as we consider how stable this coalition may be going forward - there's a third party in the coalition government, right? The Social Democrats? Are they onboard with this compromise?

NELSON: Well, they haven't said anything yet. They're actually meeting with Chancellor Merkel and with the interior minister and others of their coalition to discuss it. But they're not going to be happy because of the increasingly hard rhetoric that Merkel and her conservatives are using when it comes to migrants and the fact that Seehofer is still interior minister. I mean, nobody is very pleased with him at the moment, no matter where they are on the aisle.

KELLY: And where does this leave Chancellor Merkel, who seems to have been lurching from one political crisis to another for weeks, if not months now? I mean, does she emerge stronger from all this, weaker from all this? What do we think?

NELSON: Well, she's survived. That's something that she seems to be able to do no matter what the crisis. But she's definitely much weaker in the eyes of the German public, in the eyes of the EU. You have certain governments within the EU that are clearly going to try to take advantage of this that are also, very much like Mr. Seehofer, sort of tacking right, if you will, when it comes to migration and other questions. So this was not a great win for her, even though she did win the battle.

KELLY: And in the moments we have left, Soraya, I mean, translate that to the bigger stage. She has obviously played a huge role as kind of the unifying rock of the EU. Might - will she be able to continue playing that now that this crisis is averted at home?

NELSON: More than likely, yes. I mean, she really is a very skilled diplomat, and she thrives in that environment. And even after this very contentious EU deal or summit that was going on last week before this crisis really peaked here, I mean, she really looked in her element after the deal was struck. She had a lot of energy. She seemed to be very positive about it. So you know, she felt that in fact this (laughter) crisis wasn't going to really happen, or - so I mean, she didn't say it directly, but that was sort of the implication. So I think this kind of took her by surprise.

KELLY: Thank you, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome, Mary Louise.

KELLY: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reporting from Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.