A migrant policy deal struck by Chancellor Angela Merkel to save the German government got a skeptical reception Tuesday from her Social Democrat coalition partners, although Brussels said it appeared at first sight to comply with European law.
The center-right leader needs the backing of both her junior coalition partner and fellow European Union states if the plan is to succeed.
Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their long-time Bavarian Christian Social Union allies agreed Monday to set up special transit zones at the border with Austria where migrants already registered in other EU countries will be held and then sent back to the countries where they had registered first.
The plan appeared to settle a dispute between the two conservative parties that had threatened Merkel’s three-month-old government. But a Forsa poll Tuesday showed a majority of Germans to be unhappy about the agreement.
The Social Democrats, who rejected a similar plan three years ago, withheld their immediate consent and EU states must also agree to take migrants back.
Social Democrat leader Andrea Nahles said the plan was worthless without bilateral deals with countries such as Italy and Austria.
“We have many open questions,” said Nahles, whose lawmakers discussed the deal Tuesday. Securing the consent of other EU countries was crucial, she said, adding: “That’s why I consider the deal for now as an uncovered check.”
Lars Klingbeil, secretary-general of the center-left party, stopped short of rejecting the deal, but told the Rheinische Post newspaper: “Our resolution stands: We don’t want closed camps.”
Justice Minister Katarina Barley, a fellow Social Democrat, also struck a critical tone. “This so-called agreement leaves more questions open than it answers,” she told Funke media group.
However, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker responded positively to the deal. “I have not studied it in detail but at first glance – and I have asked the legal services to look at it – it seems to me to be in line with the law,” Juncker told a news conference in Strasbourg.
Austria, the main entry point for migrants into Germany, said it would take measures to protect its own southern borders if Berlin went ahead with the transit zones. It fears that tighter border controls by its northern neighbor could raise the number of migrants on its own soil.
The new policy is a compromise that saw Merkel and CSU head Horst Seehofer defuse their confrontation.
Seehofer, who is also German interior minister and wanted tighter national border controls, had threatened to resign, then delayed a decision and now says he will remain in the cabinet.
He said he had spoken to Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz by phone. “I have the impression that he is interested in a sensible solution,” Seehofer said before a party meeting.
The Austrian chancellery confirmed that Seehofer would meet Kurz and his counterpart Herbert Kickl Thursday.
Seehofer and Italian counterpart Matteo Salvini spoke by phone and agreed to meet for bilateral talks before a summit of interior ministers in Innsbruck on July 11.
“We discussed common solutions to fight clandestine immigration between one European Union country and another and the protection of Europe’s exterior borders,” Salvini said in a statement.
The Forsa poll showed that 54 percent of Germans would have favored a CDU-CSU split over the migration question while 38 percent welcomed the agreement and the unity of the two sister parties.
More than two-thirds said Seehofer should have resigned as interior minister while only one out of four respondents welcomed his decision to stay in office.
Merkel, Seehofer, Nahles and senior members of their parties met in the chancellery Tuesday evening to discuss the plan.