BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies denied a newspaper report on Sunday that they will give her two weeks to deliver a European solution on migrant policy before defying her by starting to turn away refugees at the border.
Such a move would defuse the immediate row that threatens her partnership with Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) and could even end her coalition.
Citing unnamed sources from the CSU leadership, top-selling Bild reported that the party would agree to the plan, drawn up by her Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, from Bavaria, but delay its implementation until after an EU summit on June 28-29.
If no satisfactory EU deal is reached, German police would start sending back migrants who had registered in other EU states, Bild reported.
Handelsblatt daily also reported the two-week delay.
However, CSU General-Secretary Markus Blume said the Bild report was made up. “There are no agreements in any direction,” he told Reuters. “It is pure disinformation.”
The CSU has set Monday as the day to start implementing a national policy, a move Merkel rejects as it would reverse her 2015 open-door policy and undermine her authority. It would also deal a blow to the EU’s Schengen open-border system.
While Merkel would welcome a reprieve from an immediate crisis in her coalition, which also includes the Social Democrats, such a move would pile on pressure to deliver an EU deal. Divisions are deep on how to deal with large numbers of people fleeing conflict, many from the Middle East.
The issue has come to a head in the last week with a new Italian government refusing to let a ship with hundreds of migrants dock at its ports. The ship arrived in Spain on Sunday.
In a last-ditch bid to avert a crisis, Merkel had last week asked the CSU to give her two weeks to come up with bilateral migrant deals with partners, such as Italy and Greece, similar to one agreed between Turkey and the EU in 2016.
On Sunday, a government spokesman said Merkel was seeking talks with some EU members on migrant policy before the leaders summit at the end of the month although denied a report in Bild that she was trying to set up a special summit.
There is no love lost between Seehofer and the CSU – facing a tough regional election in October – and Merkel, who have fought repeatedly on migrant policy in the last three years.
Things came to a head last week when Merkel blocked his hardline plan. He was quoted in Welt am Sonntag as telling some CSU lawmakers: “I cannot work with the woman any more.”
If Seehofer were to defy her by going ahead with his plans on Monday, the chancellor would be forced to fire him.
There is even talk that the 70-year-old conservative parliamentary alliance between the CDU and CSU could collapse. Without the CSU, Merkel’s coalition, which also includes the Social Democrats, would lose its parliamentary majority.
Seehofer told Bild am Sonntag: “No one in the CSU has an interest in bringing down the chancellor, to break up the CDU/CSU parliamentary alliance or to blow up the coalition.”
However, in terms of substance, he showed no sign of shifting his position and other leading CSU members said they wanted to start implementing the policy quickly.
Growing numbers of leading CDU figures, most of whom do not want to see Merkel fall even if they prefer the CSU’s tough stance on migrants, have called for a compromise.
Merkel’s handling of the migrant crisis, which has resulted in the arrival of more than 1.6 million people since 2014, is widely blamed for a rise in support for the far-right Alternative for Germany, which entered parliament after a September election.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Dale Hudson and David Gregorio)