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Refugee issue complicates Merkel’s bid to form government


BERLIN: Two weeks after winning elections with a reduced majority, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a first step on Sunday toward forming a government by trying to unite her conservative camp which is bitterly divided over refugee policy.

Merkel met for private talks with her Bavarian CSU allies led by Horst Seehofer, who blames her open-door policy that has brought over one million asylum seekers since 2015 for the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Beleaguered Seehofer — who after a vote drubbing faces internal challengers, and state elections next year — has revived his calls to cap the national refugee intake at 200,000 a year, a demand Merkel has consistently rejected as unconstitutional.

In an opening salvo on Sunday, the CSU published a 10-point list of demands, including a refugee “upper limit”, a broad return to the conservative roots of the centre-right alliance, and a commitment to “healthy patriotism”.

“We must fight the AfD head-on — and fight to get their voters back,” said the text published in mass-circulation Bild am Sonntag, which suggested that “conservatism is sexy again”.

The talks were expected to last deep into the night, with Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann conceding the situation was “not easy”, and a party colleague asking journalists whether they had “brought their sleeping bags”.

Merkel’s CDU too is nervous ahead of a Lower Saxony state poll next Sunday, where it is running neck-and-neck with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) — a party badly in need of a win after their bruising defeat in September 24 elections.

SPD leader Martin Schulz, gleefully watching the family squabbles in Merkel’s conservative camp, charged that the “madhouse” CDU-CSU dispute showed that “in reality, they are enemy parties”.

The emergence of the anti-immigration AfD, which scored 12.6 per cent, has stunned Germany by breaking a long-standing taboo on hard-right parties sitting in the Bundestag.

Its success came at the expense of the mainstream parties, making it harder for Merkel to form a working majority.

Her best shot now — if she wants to avoid fresh elections that could further boost the AfD — is an alliance with two other parties that make for odd bedfellows, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the left-leaning Greens.

Such a power pact — dubbed a “Jamaica coalition” because the three party colours match those of the Caribbean nation’s flag — would be a first at the national level in Germany.

In the talks to come, likely to take weeks, all players will fight for ministerial posts and issues from EU relations to climate policy. All must give a little to reach a compromise — but not too much, to avoid charges from their own party bases that they are selling out in a grab for power. — AFP

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