UPDATE – Row over migration threatens German coalition

UPDATES WITH REMARKS BY MERKEL, EDITS THROUGHOUT

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government was jeopardized Thursday by a burgeoning row over the interior minister’s plan to turn away asylum-seekers at the border.

Speaking to reporters after more than four hours of crisis talks with lawmakers from her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, Merkel renewed opposition to a controversial proposal by Christian Social Union (CSU) and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

She underlined that such a unilateral step might undermine efforts for a common EU policy to address the refugee crisis.

“I personally think that illegal migration is one of the biggest challenges to the European Union. Therefore, I believe, we shouldn’t act unilaterally, we shouldn’t act uncoordinated and we shouldn’t leave things to the third parties,” she said.

Merkel promised to hold intensive talks with EU partners in the next two weeks, with the goal of concluding intergovernmental agreements, enabling the return of migrants to the EU member state where they first entered Europe and registered.

However, her coalition partner CSU insisted on Thursday that Germany should act immediately and not wait for the upcoming EU leaders summit on June 28-29.

CSU’s group leader Alexander Dobrindt told reporters that lawmakers gave their full support to Seehofer’s plan, and would a have meeting on Monday to discuss possible future steps.

Seehofer has threatened to move forward with his plan and implement it as a ministerial decision, without seeking approval from Merkel.

The conservative politician, whose party CSU faces a regional election in Bavaria in October, has recently sharpened his criticism of Merkel’s open-door policy for refugees.

His new "migration master plan,” foresees turning away asylum-seekers at Germany’s border if they had already applied for an asylum and rejected, or they entered the EU from another member state and first registered there.

Germany received more than one million refugees in the last thee years, mostly from Syria and Iraq.

Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open doors for refugees fleeing conflicts and persecution was widely criticized by conservative media outlets, and was exploited by the far-right and populist parties.

Her CDU and its sister party CSU have suffered heavy losses in the country's federal elections last year, while the far-right AfD scored record gains and entered the parliament for the first time.

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