Can EU summit help Merkel survive her domestic battle over migration?

Battening down the EU’s hatches: Can ideas from Sunday’s mini-summit appease Germany’s CSU in its quarrel with the chancellor over refugees? Bernd Riegert reports from Brussels.

Horst Seehofer and Angela Merkel (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Schreiber)Buying time: Chancellor Merkel and Interior Minister Seehofer have postponed their migration showdown until after this week’s EU summit

Sunday’s mini-summit in Brussels on asylum policies that convened at the behest of beleaguered German Chancellor Angela Merkel ended without decisions, and left nothing in writing.

But the speeches by the 16 heads of state and government did offer insight into the direction the EU is headed at the summit later this week. The question is whether the proposals raised can bolster Merkel in her current dispute with her interior minister, Horst Seehofer from conservative sister party the CSU, or whether it’s migration hardliner Seehofer who stands to profit. He is demanding short-term effective measures, namely turning back asylum seekers at Germany’s borders. Merkel advocates bilateral accords between EU countries to fix the bloc’s migration problem. To what extent are the ideas floated in Brussels likely to impact Merkel’s government crisis?

Improve protection of EU’s external borders:

Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, can expect to employ 10,000 new officers by 2021. Their powers are very limited at this point, so the EU would like to expand their mandate. But who exactly are they supposed to protect the EU from, and are they expected to prevent refugees, asylum-seekers or migrants from entering the EU? A larger fleet would be necessary to safeguard the borders in the Mediterranean Sea.

Impact on the German domestic dispute: The proposal isn’t likely to affect the CSU’s dispute with the chancellor, simply because it would take too long to implement. Horst Seehofer wants action now.

Frontex border guard (picture-alliance/dpa/C. Charisius)Beefing up Frontex is on the agenda, but it’s a longer term project

Reception centers for migrants outside the EU:

Several EU member states – including Austria – advocate setting up reception centers in Libya and elsewhere in North Africa for refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants picked up on the Mediterranean. The idea is to prevent travel to the EU, while deciding on site which people actually stand a chance of being granted asylum. The idea is not new; it was previously floated 14 years ago by former German Interior Minister Otto Schily. But foreign “hotspots” have never taken off because no one country has agreed to set up such a center. Now, several EU member states want to push the issue by offering Libya a substantial amount of money. Some have mentioned setting up a processing center on an uninhabited island in the Mediterranean – that’sthe “Australian” model favored by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz .

Impact on the German domestic dispute: This proposal, too, is unlikely to have much of an impact. Horst Seehofer may like the idea of setting up hotspots, but the plan would take months, if not years, to implement.

Reception centers within the EU:

France, Spain and Italy could also imagine reception centers in port cities within the EU for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants rescued from the Mediterranean – likewise for on-site decisions concerning entry into the EU or immediate deportation. The “hotspots” would have to be guarded to prevent illegal entry into the respective EU state. Hungary follows this practice on its border with Serbia: people are held in a transit zone right on the border and sent back after very brief asylum proceedings. Merkel, too, has suggested deciding on asylum at the EU’s external borders, even hinting at a “common European asylum office.”

Impact on the German domestic dispute: Horst Seehofer may like the idea, but the plan would take months, if not years.

Guard looks through barbed wire fence (Reuters/L. Balogh)Hungary has already sealed off its border

Deport rejected asylum-seekers:

Deportation has long been a legal option, demanded time and again by the EU Commission. The aim is to return at least 70 percent of the rejected asylum seekers back to their native countries, a quota that neither Germany nor other affected countries such as Italy currently fulfill. The plan involves speeding up the asylum process: at the moment, a process that according to European guidelines should take a maximum of six months can take several years in Germany.

Impact on the German domestic dispute: This would require an overhaul of the German asylum system, something both the CDU and the CSU have repeatedly pledged to do.

Prevent “secondary” migration:

Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants leave their country of entry into the EU, say Italy or Greece, and simply head on to another EU country. Some enter a country with a valid visa and simply stay after the visa has expired. In the hope of deterring secondary migration, the EU is proposing larger fines as well as stripping secondary migrants of all social benefits, board and lodging.

Impact on the German domestic dispute: This is a procedure Horst Seehofer is bound to like. However, from a legal standpoint it is currently not possible to immediately turn back all illegal entries at the border. People who apply for asylum have the right to an investigation into which EU country is actually responsible for them. That is almost impossible at the border because Eurodac, the database used for fingerprinting asylum seekers, is neither comprehensive nor made for rapid scans.

Bilateral and trilateral accords:

The chancellor has resorted to speaking of bilateral and trilateral accords because she has realized that there will be no comprehensive European solution. It remains unclear what deals she plans with which states. Neither Austria nor Italy are interested in taking back people turned away at the German border. Italy’s rightwing populist interior minister has in fact outright refused any such proposition – even if the Dublin Regulations are clear on the responsibilities concerning asylum proceedings.

Impact on the German domestic dispute: Horst Seehofer might like such agreements if they had a timely effect.

Bye-bye, Dublin?

Watch video26:03

Germany’s refugee row: Can Merkel survive?

Italy wants to cancel the regulation stipulating the responsibility of the country of first entry, and instead immediately distribute new arrivals throughout the EU using a quota system. Both Merkel and Seehofer are against scrapping the Dublin Regulations, arguing that without the procedure, even more people would try to travel directly to Germany without registering anywhere else. Merkel has indicated that she is not totally opposed to distributing asylum seekers in an effort to relieve Italy, while Seehofer is likely not in favor of the quota solution.

The next step is the actual EU summit to be held later this week with all 28 member states. Only after the summit will Seehofer decide whether he’s prepared to put Germany’s hard-won coalition government with Merkel’s conservative CDU and the Social Democrats at risk over the migration issue.



Reports: British Prime Minister Theresa May plans migration curbs

Non-EU migrants could find it harder to enter Britain under policies outlined in a pre-election manifesto drafted by the prime minister’s Conservatives. The document is being published ahead of a June 8 snap election.

Großbritannien Theresa May startet ihre Wahlkampagne (Reuters/P. Noble)

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday urged voters to “strengthen my hand” in Brexit talks, as she unveiled the Conservative manifesto. May reiterated that Britain would be leaving the European single market and the customs union and warned of “tricky battles” over the next two years as the country negotiates its departure from the EU.

“Every vote for me and my team will strengthen my hand in the negotiations to come,” May said at the launch in Halifax in northern England, calling it “a manifesto to see us through Brexit and beyond.”

Farage: We’ve changed British history

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“If we fail, the consequences for Britain and for the economic security of ordinary working people will be dire. If we succeed, the opportunities ahead of us are great,” May said, as dozens of anti-austerity campaigners and trade unionists rallied outside.

“It is time to put the old tribal politics behind us and to come together in the national interest, united in our desire to make a success of Brexit,” May said.

Watch video02:48

Coventry’s Brexit woes

Mainstream British media said on Wednesday that May would pitch immigration strictures and trim certain welfare benefits for pensioners when she unveiled her pledges later Thursday for Britain’s snap June 8 election.

Employers seeking non-EU workers for skilled jobs would face a doubling of the so-called skills charge and migrant workers would be asked to pay more into the National Health Service, according to the BBC.

The extra revenue gathered would flow into skills training for British workers.

The skills charge sees companies fined when they employ migrants from outside the EU.

The BBC said May is also planning to implement a reduction of immigration from EU nations, once Britain has finalized its divorce from the bloc.

That amounted to the “end of freedom of movement, ” a key tenet of open-borders Europe, said the BBC, quoting an unnamed source.

Addressing a G20 trade union meeting in Berlin on Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Britain that ending free movement of people “will have its price.”

Merkel said London should not attempt to stipulate “there’s a cap of 100,000 or 200,000 EU citizens, more aren’t allowed into Britain – perhaps researchers as well, but no others, please.”

May outlines other pledges

May said she would also tighten laws on company takeovers and would ensure any foreign group buying important infrastructure did not undermine security or essential services if she wins next month’s election.

“We will require bidders to be clear about their intentions from the outset of the bid process; that all promises and undertakings made in the course of takeover bids can be legally enforced afterwards; and that the government can require a bid to be paused to allow greater scrutiny,” the Conservative Party said in its election policy document on Thursday.

May also said that when the current triple lock system governing the rates of state pensions expires in 2020, a new double lock system will be introduced instead. She said the double lock would mean pensions would rise in line with earnings or inflation, whichever was highest.

May said now was not the time for another Scottish independence referendum and one should not take place until the Brexit process has played out.

May added that she would increase spending on the state-run National Health Service by at least 8 billion pounds over the next five years and hike the migrant health surcharge. The Conservative election policy document also said it would prioritize the issue of the 140,000 nationals from other EU countries who work in the health system.

Writing in The Sun newspaper, May said she was “determined to cut the cost of living for ordinary working families, keep taxes low and to intervene when markets are not working as they should.”

The Telegraph newspaper said May would also stick to the conservative government’s pledge to cut the corporation tax to 17 percent by 2020.

People who currently receive free care in their home would be charged more, and funding for universal free school lunches for young children would be diverted to other educational tasks.

The ruling Conservative Party received 4.1 million pounds ($5.35 million) of donations in the first week of the campaign, the watchdog Electoral Commission said on Thursday. That compares to 2.7 million pounds for the main opposition Labour Party.

May heads into the election against the opposition center-left Labour with opinion surveys indicating that she could win by a landslide.

ipj/gsw (AFP, Reuters, AP)



Merkel warns against British ‘illusions’ as Brexit negotiations begin

In an address to the Bundestag, German Chancellor Angela Merkel talked tough ahead of Saturday’s EU-27 summit on Brexit. The UK, she said, would not be as well positioned as EU member states.

Angela Merkel Regierungserklärung Berlin (Reuters/H.Hanschke)

Ahead of a meeting of the 27 remaining European Union nations in Brussels on Saturday, Chancellor Angela Merkel briefed the German parliament, the Bundestag, about Germany’s strategy vis-a-vis Brexit. But at least in part her message was aimed across the English Channel.

The chancellor warned London not to expect a deal that would privilege the UK.

“A third-party state cannot enjoy the same advantages or be better positioned than an EU member state,” Merkel said. “I have the feeling that some people in Britain maintain illusions in this regard. They’re wasting their time.”

That line drew applause from members of the Bundestag. Merkel reiterated that negotiators would have to resolve the details of Britain’s exit from the EU, including financial obligations that could extend beyond Britain’s departure, before any deals could be struck about a future English-EU relationship.

as third country ‘can and will not have the same rights’ as -member, says on . ‘No illusions’ but fair negotiations.

“These steps must happen in that order,” Merkel said. “Our goal is to get the best deal for Europe and its citizens.”

Merkel added that negotiations could only commence in earnest after the United Kingdom’s parliamentary election on June 8.

Expats high on the agenda 

Not all of Merkel’s remarks focused on the potential conflicts of interest between the EU and the UK. The chancellor also said that Germany and the EU had an interest in a strong and prosperous Britain.

She said one of her priorities was to clear up the future status of the approximately 100,000 German citizens permanently living in Britain. In return, Germany and the EU were prepared to offer British expatriates in the bloc a “fair deal.”

London Imbiss deutsche Würstchen (picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gentsch)It’s unclear how the EU will trade with a post-Brexit UK

Merkel also expressed confidence that the EU and post-Brexit Britain shared interests in businesses being able to sell their products to the other and fighting against terrorism and organized crime.

At the same time, the EU showed a high degree of solidarity in the wake of the British referendum in June 2016, in which a slight majority of UK voters supported the Brexit, Merkel added. Specifically naming Ireland, she said that it was a sign of European strength that none of the individual EU-27 states had engaged in “preliminary negotiations” with London.

A disintegrating EU?

Speaking for the Social Democrats (SPD), the junior partners with Merkel’s conservatives in the government, Thomas Oppermann said: “I’m glad that within the coalition we have consensus on this issue.”

 Sahra Wagenknecht Berlin Bundestag (Reuters/H.Hanschke)The Left Party’s Wagenknecht said Merkel was trying to strong-arm the UK

But Sahra Wagenknecht of the opposition Left Party accused Merkel’s government of trying to “punish” the UK and of ignoring the social concerns she said had led many people in Britain to vote for the Brexit.

“The EU is threatening to fall apart,” Wagenknecht said. “Anyone who thinks he needs intimidation to ensure European solidarity has already long given up on Europe.”

Merkel’s CDU-CSU, the SPD and the opposition Green Party rejected that assessment. The Greens, represented by Katrin Göring-Eckardt, called upon Merkel to reassure expats of their status by this summer.

Criticism of Erdogan, conflict over Le Pen

Significantly, Merkel began her address with statements critical of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and irregularities in Turkey’s constitutional referendum, which gave him what some say, are quasi-autocratic powers. She also called for the release of a German journalist currently detained in Turkey.

“To be unmistakably clear, it’s not compatible with the rule of law if the Turkish executive judges people in advance, as has obviously happened with Deniz Yücel,” Merkel stated.

But Merkel said it would be a mistake for the EU to “turn its back” on Turkey, which is still, nominally, a candidate for potential membership in the bloc.

Frankreich Präsidentschaftswahl EU Flagge (picture alliance/Pacific Press/M. Debets)The outcome of the French election in early May is another major EU concern

Spokespeople for the parliamentary party groups joined in the criticism of Erdogan. They also took the opportunity to comment on the results of the first round of the French election, which left centrist investment banker Emmanuel Macron to face right-wing, anti-EU populist Marine Le Pen in a run-off vote on May 7.

Wagenknecht criticized the fact that the poll had left voters with a choice between a “neo-liberal” and Le Pen. That wasn’t a popular view with her parliamentary peers.

Göring-Eckardt said all German parties had a responsibility to support “democracy,” in the form of Macron, against the “hate mongering” of Le Pen. SPD General Secretary Katarina Barley said Wagenknecht’s remarks showed that she had “no clue.”

It was an impressive display that the EU is confronted by issues other than Brexit and that national political squabbling continues as usual.

Watch video03:34

Conservative expert says EU in strong position on Brexit



Merkel, German government say US missile strikes in Syria ‘understandable’

Germany has signaled support for the American military action – without explicitly backing it, calling the strikes “limited and targeted.” But the opposition criticized the Trump administration’s move.

Watch video01:22

Merkel: US attack on Syria is ‘understandable’

Speaking at an event for refugee helpers in Berlin, Angela Merkel once again condemned the “chemical weapons massacre of innocent people in Syria” and implied that the US missile strikes in response were justified.

“We all know that chemical weapons are condemned internationally and that anyone who uses them commits a war crime,” Merkel said, calling the US response “limited and targeted.”

Merkel also reiterated an earlier statement she issued together with French President Francois Hollande that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad was “solely responsible for the latest developments.”

“In view of the dimensions of this war crime, the suffering of innocent people and the blockade in the United Nations Security Council, the attack by the US is understandable,” the conservative chancellor said.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday that German Tornado reconnaissance jets would not provide assistance for further US attacks on Syria. Speaking to German broadcaster SWR von der Leyen said the German jets had a clearly defined role within the international coalition to carry out reconnaissance for missions against the so-called “Islamic State.” The US had not asked for any German assistance ahead of the US missile attacks on the Syrian airbase, she said.

Watch video02:56

President Trump full remarks on US strike on Syria

Earlier this week Russia blocked a UN Security Council resolution that would have condemned the chemical weapons attack.

Merkel stressed that diplomatic work was now needed to resolve the conflict in Syria.

“It remains right and crucial to devote all our energy to discussions in the UN Security council and in Geneva in to order to arrive at a transitional political solution in Syria and put a democratic end to the Assad regime,” Merkel added.

Understanding but not supporting

The German government’s line is essentially that the Assad regime’s crimes against humanity are so bad that they justify US President Donald Trump’s decision to take unilateral action. At the government’s Friday press conference, spokespeople for the chancellor and the Foreign Ministry refused to be drawn in on the question of whether the US missile strikes themselves might not be a violation of international law. Instead, they repeated multiple times that the US action was “understandable.”

Syrien USA Luftangriff auf Militärbasis (picture-alliance/AP Images/US Navy/F. Williams)US warships fired some 50 missiles at a Syrian airbase on Friday morning

The hope is that there will be no escalation of the conflict – particularly between the US and Russia – and that the missile strikes might serve to rein in the Syrian leader.

“I think this targeted attack aims at preventing the Assad regime from using chemical weapons again and ensuring that it never again comes to such horrible crimes against humanity,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Sebastian Fischer said.

A Defense Ministry spokesperson said that the ministry had been informed of the action shortly before the missiles were launched. And Fischer emphasized that the government had enough sources to think it “highly probable” that Assad was behind the chemical attacks which killed more than 80 people in Khan Sheikhoun.

But there is a difference between probability and certainty. And Merkel and her government have stopped pointedly short of explicitly declaring their support for the actions of Trump, with whom relations have been difficult, if not positively frosty.

Lack of clarity from Schulz

Earlier on Friday, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel of the Social Democrats (SPD) also said that the US missile strikes were “understandable.”

FM @sigmargabriel on US air strikes: After failure of @UN Security Council, attack on military structures understandable.

But Martin Schulz, the SPD chairman and candidate for chancellor in this year’s national election, who is not part of the government, was less clear about where he was aligned.

“For too long we Europeans have only been looking on to the US and Russia,” Schulz said.

The SPD chairman said that Europe would act “politically and not militarily” and called for a return to the negotiating table.

“This is the hour for talks, not bombs,” Schulz said, adding that he found it “more than unsettling” that the UN had not been able to formulate a “clear answer” to the poison gas attacks.

“The Security Council was incapable of doing that,” Schulz said.

Auftaktveranstaltung der NRWSPD Martin Schulz (picture-alliance/dpa/Revierfoto)Schulz’s statements were ambivalent

Opposition slams strikes, Trump

If Schulz appeared to be hedging his bets, the German opposition minced no words in criticizing the unilateral American action.

“The US military escalation must be stopped immediately,” Left Party co-chairs Sahra Wagenknecht and Dietmar Bartsch said in a statement. “Last night’s US missile attack, which violated international law, puts Syria further away from a peaceful solution and has given IS cause for celebration.”

The Left Party said Germany needed to focus on preventing the conflict between Washington and Moscow over Syria from escalating.

“Instead of reflexively getting behind Trump, the German government should do everything in its power to stabilize relations between Russia and the US,” Wagenknecht and Bartsch said. “The current situation is extremely dangerous and could get out of control at any time.”

Green Party foreign policy expert Jürgen Trittin surmised that the domestic political situation in the US and not a desire to protect the innocent had inspired the missile strikes.

“I think that concerns for international law played less of a role here than the fact that throughout the US presidential campaign, Donald Trump portrayed Barack Obama as a wimp,” Trittin told German radio.

And in their official statement, the Greens said: “Even if Russia keeps the Security Council from acting, as it emerged a few days ago, unilateral military action is not right.”

Watch video01:31

US fires cruise missiles on Syria – the first reactions



Merkel tells Abbas, two-state solution only alternative

The two-state scenario of Palestinians living alongside Israel remains the “only sensible alternative,” Chancellor Angela Merkel has told Mahmoud Abbas in Berlin. The Palestinian president is also due to visit Brussels.

Berlin Abbas bei Merkel (Reuters/P. Kopczynski)

Merkel indirectly warned Israel on Friday that its expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank would lead to “erosion of the two-state solution,” that would also put Israel’s future at risk.

“I still do not see a reasonable alternative to the goal of a two-state solution,” Merkel said in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s suggestion last month that a Palestinian state alongside Israel was not the only solution.

Abbas, speaking alongside Merkel at a Berlin press conference, thanked Germany for what he termed German political and material support provided to improve Palestinian institutional structures.

Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsmann, told Germany’s “Nordwest-Zeitung” newspaper on Friday that Israel was not against the two-state solution but insisted that Palestinians return to the negotiating table, without pre-conditions.

Renewed peace efforts?

Peace efforts lead by the former Obama’s administration’s secretary of state John Kerry collapsed in 2014. One of Trump’s top advisers, Jason Greenblatt, visited Israel and the Palestinian territories last week for talks on both sides as Trump issued an invitation to Abbas.

Israel has continued to build settlements in the occupied West Bank – seized by Israel in a 1967 war – and where Palestinians want to establish their state.

Statistics on settlements

On Wednesday, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics published figures, showing that ground was broken on 2,630 housing units last year compared with 1,884 in 2015.

That figures excluded East Jerusalem, also occupied in 1967 and later annexed.

Some three million Palestinians live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israeli settlers amount to some 200,000 in east Jerusalem and 400,000 in the West Bank.

Call to find successor

On Thursday evening, while addressing Germany’s conservative Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Abbas asked rhetorically whether Israel wanted “only one state.”

“On 60 percent of our territory we cannot move freely,” Abbas said. “We can’t even move a stone or plant a tree on these grounds.”

Deutschland Palästinenserpräsident Mahmud Abbas in Berlin (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Stache)Can’t even move a stone, says Abbas

Roderich Kiesewetter of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) urged Abbas, who next Sunday will turn 82, to find a successor.

Otherwise a dangerous vacuum could result, said Kiesewetter, who is a leading conservative in the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

Controversial report removed

Before meeting Abbas on Friday, Merkel warned Palestinians that if they wanted peace it was wrong to condemn Israel within international bodies.

Earlier this week, UN chief Antonio Guterres had ordered the removal from a UN website of a report that had accused Israel of establishing an “apartheid regime” that dominated Palestinians.

UN undersecretary Rima Khalaf resigned last Friday after resisting Guterres’ request to remove the document, which had drawn US condemnation.

Guterres’ spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, claimed it had been published without consultation with the UN secretariat.

Khalaf had headed the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), a Beirut-based UN body.

Guterres is due to travel to Jordan next week to attend an Arab summit and hold bilateral meetings expected to focus on the wars in Syria, Yemen, Libya and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

ipj/kms (dpa, AFP, AP)



US President Trump welcomes Chancellor Merkel to the White House

Chancellor Merkel and President Trump have held their first joint press conference at the White House. Items on the agenda for the first meetings between the two leaders are NATO, immigration and global trade.

Watch video00:27

Merkel: ‘Security and defense have many dimensions’

President Donald Trump welcomed Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House for their first meeting on Friday.

They sat for photos in the Oval Office following their talks and roundtable discussion with US and German business leaders. Trump had quipped with journalists, urging them to “send a good picture back to Germany, please.” Despite awkward body language from both leaders, Merkel said the talks went “very well.”

Trump is the third US President Merkel has met as chancellor. She took time in the press conference to appreciate the role of the US in rebuilding Germany after World War II through the Marshall Plan, and in reunifying Germany after 1989.

On defense and NATO spending

Trump reaffirmed his “strong support” for the NATO alliance, but he also said he had pressed the chancellor to increase Germany’s defense budget and to meet the 2 percent of GDP target for defense spending. NATO allies, the president said, need to “pay their fair share” for the cost of defense.

tells @realDonaldTrump Germany will live up to its promise to spend more on defence, but stresses that security is about much more:

“Many nations owe vast sums of money” and that situation is “very unfair to the United States,” Trump said.

Merkel pledged to continue to increase Germany’s defense budget and reaffirmed her commitment of achieving the 2 percent of GDP threshold by 2024. Germany’s current level is 1.2 percent. Merkel also stressed the need to find a solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

In her opening remarks at the press conference, Merkel said it was important to “talk to one another and not about one another.”

On trade

Ahead of their press conference, Trump hosted a roundtable discussion with the chancellor and a delegation of German and US business leaders, where he voiced his praise for Germany’s vocational apprenticeship schemes.

Ahead of the chancellor’s trip to Washington, German political and business leaders had expressed concerns that Trump’s “America First” policy  favors US exports. Answering a reporter’s question about protectionism at the press conference in the White House on Friday, Trump pushed back against any accusations that his economic policy was isolationist.

On trade, @realDonaldTrump denied being opposed to free trade. But what lies ahead for the Germany-US trade ties? 

“I’m a free trader but also a fair trader,” Trump said, adding that he expected “fair and reciprocal policies” in Washington’s relationship with Berlin. However, Trump did not rule out adopting more protectionist policies and said previous trade policies had left millions of US citizens being “behind by international commerce.”

Ahead of Merkel and Trump’s meeting, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble spoke out against the US president’s brand of protectionism during a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Baden-Baden.

The White House meeting had been initially been scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed after a major snowstorm blanketed large parts of the US east coast.

On immigration

Perhaps the most anticipated remarks from both leaders were on each country’s divergent immigration policies.

However, just days after his executive order temporarily suspending the US refugee program and barring people from a number of Muslim-majority countries, Trump reaffirmed his position that “Immigration is a privilege, not a right, and the safety of our citizens must always come first, without question.”

Merkel did not speak in depth on immigration but said she agreed with the president in stressing the importance of tackling illegal immigration and combatting radical threats. She confirmed the need for strong borders but also to help people in their own countries in Africa and the Middle East, before they became refugees.

Watch video00:25

Awkward handshake moment between Merkel and Trump

On immigration, Trump had berated the German chancellor on multiple occasions last year and accused her of “ruining Germany” for her open-door refugee policy.

Since the height of the migrant crisis in the fall of 2015, Germany has settled almost a million refugees from war-torn states such as Iraq and Syria.

I told you @TIME Magazine would never pick me as person of the year despite being the big favorite They picked person who is ruining Germany

“You watch what happens to Angela Merkel, who I always thought of as a very good leader until she did this,” Trump, then a candidate, said at a rally in Virginia in August. “I don’t know what went wrong with her. Angela, what happened?”

Watch video00:27

Merkel: “People are different”

dm/jm (AFP, Reuters)




German states rebel against federal government over deportations

Angela Merkel’s government has promised to send rejected asylum seekers home, but some local states aren’t cooperating. Schleswig-Holstein, for example, has temporarily halted all deportations to Afghanistan.

Symbolbild Abschiebung Flüchtlinge (picture-alliance/dpa/B. Roessler)

Schleswig-Holstein will not be sending anyone back to Afghanistan for at least until May 31, the northern German state announced on Tuesday. Schleswig-Holstein’s Social Democrat (SPD) Interior Minister Stefan Studt said that the state government was taking the step for “humanitarian reasons” because deportees weren’t guaranteed “security and dignity” in Afghanistan. Some 700 Afghans with no right of residence currently reside in the northern German state.

Responsibility for deporting people whose applications for asylum have been rejected or have no right to reside in Germany rests with the country’s 16 federal states, and Schleswig-Holstein’s decision underscores the conflict between local and national authorities on the issue.

Earlier this month, conservative Chancellor Merkel told her Christian Democratic (CDU) colleagues at a party convention in the state that “We can’t simply say we’ll never again return anyone to Afghanistan.” But Schleswig-Holstein is saying precisely that, at least for the next three-and-a-half months.

Merkel hoped that she had found a solution to the issue last week in Berlin when she reached agreement with the leaders of the federal states to speed up deportations. But particularly those states that are led by Social Democratic-Green coalitions are resisting enforcing the chancellor’s promise to send more people back to their homelands.

The deportation issue is a contentious one in a year including a general election preceded by two important elections at the state level, and the situation at the moment appears to be a stalemate. So how can the impasse be broken, and who is likely to win out in the end?

Deutschland - Proteste in Köln und Düsseldorf gegen die Deportation nach Afghanistan (E. Hadid)Activists have protested across Germany against deportations to Afghanistan

Carrots and sticks

Merkel’s government, and in particular Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, isn’t happy about Schleswig-Holstein’s rebellion.

“Even before the hiatus was announced, the minister wrote to all the states, and Schleswig-Holstein in particular, and told them that he thought this was the wrong signal right now,” Interior Ministry spokesman Tobias Plate said on Wednesday in Berlin. “The fact is that individual states can declare hiatuses in the short term. But if the duration is longer, they need the Interior Ministry to agree.”

Others aren’t content to wait until the Schleswig-Holstein moratorium expires. A number of conservatives, including Gerda Hasselfeldt, a high-ranking parliamentarian from the CDU’s Bavarian sister party the CSU, have called for cuts in federal assistance to states that resist common deportation policies.

But experts say that sanctions are less likely than federal incentives to enhance cooperation.

“I don’t think that’s possible,” Ulrich Karpen, Professor Emeritus of Law and deportation expert, told Deutsche Welle. “I do think the federal government could give some states additional funds depending on the number of people with no resident rights they deport. That would create positive incentives. Better carrots than sticks.”

Infografik Deportations from Germany have risen sorted by German federal states ENGMore and more people are being deported from Germany

Other states of conflict

The issue is not just confined to Schleswig-Holstein. There have also been various degrees of reluctance or refusal to go along with the federal deportation plans in Berlin, Bremen, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia – other states led by the SPD and Greens. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for instance, local Green Party spokeswoman for refugee issues, Monika Düker, resigned in December in protest at the state’s deportation of people back to Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan is not a safe country,” Düker’s successor Verena Schäffer told DW. “So it would a strong signal if all the Social Democratic state interior ministers would declare a three-month deportation moratorium. It’s high time that de Maizière and (German Foreign Minister Sigmar) Gabriel reevaluate the security situation in Afghanistan and stop the deportations.”

Infografik Abschiebungen Deutschland ENG

The issue is particularly sensitive because 2017 sees not only the German national election in September, but also state elections in both Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia in May. So there’s a lot at stake in local deportation policies.

Public sentiment favors deportations, including to countries some consider dangerous. In an opinion survey published by Focus magazine last week, nearly three-quarters of those asked said they thought convicted criminals and those deemed a threat to Germany should be sent back to Afghanistan. Twenty percent said those with rejected asylum applications should be as well.

Karpen said such pressure could force the social Democrats and Greens to adjust their position.

“The public mood is such that they actually can’t afford to block deportations,” Karpen explained. “I think if push comes to shove, the federal government will cite the wishes of voters. I can imagine that there’ll be cooperation, for example, in North Rhine-Westphalia.”

North Rhine-Westphalia is particularly important because it is Germany’s most populous state, and the election there on May 14 could set the tone for the national ballot on September 24.

Thomas de Maizière Innenminister (picture-alliance/NurPhoto/E. Contini)De Maizière would like to see a bigger federal role in deporting rejected asylum seekers

A tug-of-war for authority

Ultimately, de Maiziére and other conservative leaders in the national government would like to bring more central authority to bear on deportations. That could include the establishment of federal “departure centers” so that illegal aliens could be sent back to their countries of origin more quickly.

But even if the states do ultimately cooperate with federal authorities, they are unlikely to voluntarily cede one of their main powers.

“That would mean that the states would give up one of their assets, the authority over police coercion,” Karpen explained. “That’s hard to imagine.”

Instead Karpen expects a federal-local compromise, in which states accept nominally logistical federal “help” while officially retaining the authority to carry out deportations. Still, the fundamental conflict is unlikely to disappear completely.

“I think it would be better for the federal government to carry out deportations,” Karpen said. “Our residency law is a national one – with good reason. I think the government’s suggestion isn’t bad. But federal police won’t carry our deportations. There will be a national coordination point. Again, it’s a question of carrots and sticks.”