Key ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) Horst Seehofer had openly clashed with Merkel at the height of the mass migrant and refugee influx in 2015.
More than one million people have claimed asylum in the EU's biggest economy since the Chancellor opened Germany's borders in September 2015, a move that won Merkel much international praise but also sparked a harsh xenophobic backlash.
As border closures in the Balkans and an EU-Turkey agreement have sharply reduced the influx, Merkel's popularity has recovered and she is seen as the favourite to win the election.
As a precondition for continuing to work with Merkel's party, Seehofer long demanded an annual upper limit of 200,000 asylum seekers – a demand she has consistently rejected.
Speaking to public broadcaster ARD in an interview on Sunday, on the question of whether he would continue to limit the number of asylum seekers in Germany as a coalition condition, Seehofer said: “The situation has changed, and the position in Berlin has changed,” pointing to tougher asylum laws and EU border protection measures.
“We now have markedly less immigration than at the time I made those comments,” he added.
But Seehofer has faced criticism from other politicians for his comments.
“Horst Seehofer plays tactically with themes and thus with humans. But politics is not a game, rather it’s a question of attitude,” tweeted SPD leader Martin Schulz on Sunday evening.
Horst Seehofer spielt taktisch mit Themen und dadurch mit Menschen. Aber Politik ist kein Spiel, sondern eine Frage der Haltung.
— Martin Schulz (@MartinSchulz) August 20, 2017
Shortly before Christmas 2016 after a strong refugee influx in autumn the previous year, Seehofer told German news agency DPA in Munich: “There will be no CSU government participation without an upper limit of 200,000 for the Federal Republic of Germany in the case of immigration.”
Cem Özdemir, co-chair of the Green Party, also criticized the Bavarian leader’s stance. “Seehofer remains true to himself: with him, voters don’t know who he is and what he stands for,” he told the Rheinische Post on Monday.
Chairwoman of the Green Party, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, pointed out Seehofer’s tentative attitude by tweeting on Sunday: “Well, where does he want to go now? #Drehhofer #Obergrenze.”
— K. Göring-Eckardt (@GoeringEckardt) August 20, 2017