The irony is unmistakable. Angela Merkel, who had welcomed hundreds of thousands of migrants into Germany, has staved off a crisis in governance by deferring to the demands of neighbouring Austria and also of course from within her coalition.
The Chancellor was faced with the dichotomy of humanitarian intervention ~ alone in Europe ~ and the rumblings of dissent within the coalition government. Ms Merkel has been under intense pressure from the far right and the conservatives over her policy towards migrants.
Indeed, the far right has intensified its dissent on the issue after its impressive performance in the recent national elections. A new border regime will be in place in southern Germany and the Chancellor’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, will not resign and thus weaken the fragile coalition just yet.
The deal has allowed Merkel to avert a fallout between her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The border deal is a major compromise on the part of Merkel. It envisages the setting up of transit centres on the country’s southern border, where asylum-seekers who have already been registered in other EU countries will be held until they can be sent back to those countries.
The centres would be located on German soil in geographical but not legal terms, making it easier to deport people held in them. It is a step to facilitate deportation, and it is pretty obvious that the Chancellor has played to the gallery of her coalition partner and of Austria. While the government in Berlin is safe for now, it is fervently to be hoped that the border regime (aka deportation centres) will not exacerbate the festering migrants crisis.
The scheme is not readily workable; the political crisis has shifted to another part of the coalition. It bears recall that the transit centre scheme was proposed in 2015 by a CSU politician, Stephan Mayer. It was then stoutly rejected by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) ~ now a junior partner in Merkel’s grand coalition government.
Three years later, the centre-left SPD, wary of fresh elections, may feel less inclined to provoke a fresh crisis, but it could again reject the proposal at a meeting with members of Merkel’s bloc. The party has let it be known that it is opposed to the term “transit centres”.
The proposal could also shift the political crisis further south towards Austria, where the government has indicated that it could take its own measures to protect its borders.
The compromise deal between Ms Merkel and Mr Seehofer suggests that refugees arriving at the Austrian-Bavarian border, and who were first registered in EU countries that now refuse to take them back, notably Hungary, should be sent back to Austria. Arguably, the arrangement could have the unintended consequence of increasing migration into Germany.