Merkel & Seehofer defuse tensions over immigration policy

Stand-off Angela Merkel last night reached a deal with Horst Seehofer PIC AP

Stand-off Angela Merkel last night reached a deal with Horst Seehofer PIC AP

But it represents a big turnaround for Merkel.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defused a feud with her Bavarian allies over migration, ending a standoff that threatened to upend her government.

"After intensive discussions between the CDU and CSU we have reached an agreement on how we can in future prevent illegal immigration on the border between Germany and Austria", he told reporters on leaving the CDU's Berlin headquarters.

"We have reached an agreement after very intense negotiations", Seehofer agreed, stressing that he meant to stay on in his cabinet post after earlier threatening to quit and gloating that "it's worth fighting for your convictions".

Merkel's CDU relies on the CSU to maintain power through a coalition.

Political stability was upset by Merkel's 2015 decision to keep borders open to migrants and refugees arriving from the Middle East via the Balkans, Hungary and Austria.

The move had impacted greatly the border state Bavaria and the dispute escalated after Seehofer became interior minister and remains as CSU chairman. Seehofer said, meanwhile, that the agreement was "sustainable" and matched his "convictions", and had allowed him to stay as head of the Interior Ministry.

Soon after Monday's deal was announced, Austria warned Tuesday it could "take measures to protect" its borders.

If the CSU had withdrawn its support for Merkel's coalition, she would be left without a majority in the German parliament, possibly prompting fresh elections.

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That scenario scared all parties except the anti-immigration AfD which, polls suggest, could hope for further gains.

But the two emerged from about five hours of talks saying they agreed to establish "transit centres" on Germany's border with Austria where asylum-seekers would be evaluated and, if it turned out they had already applied for protection in another European Union country, sent back to that country.

The CSU softened its stance in the face of withering criticism across party lines and poor polling results, insisting that the alliance with the CDU must live on.

Mrs Merkel said that Germany would hold migrants registered in other European Union countries in transit centres while it negotiates their return.

Merkel rejected such unilateral German measures and pledged to reach bilateral deals instead with other European Union states.

"The EU wants a common policy for the whole of Europe, but the member-states want the ability to decide themselves who can come into their countries".

The Chancellor agreed in setting up closed, "transition" centres for asylum seekers, near the border, where they will be detained while their application is processed. It was also reported that in cases where such agreements can not be reached, they would nevertheless be rejected "on the basis of an agreement with the Republic of Austria".

While averting an immediate crisis, the plan also raised new questions - especially when it comes to Italy, the main arrival country for migrants crossing the Mediterranean. But replacements for Horst Seehofer are only likely to be more hardline.

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