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Will Merkel’s concession on a refugee cap help her form a new government?

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Will Merkel’s concession on a refugee cap help her form a new government?
Photo: DPA
11:34 CEST+02:00
Angela Merkel is entering the trickiest coalition talks she has yet faced. On Sunday she met a compromise with her Bavarian sister party on one of the key conflict points - refugees. But will the agreement alienate the Greens?

Handelsblatt claimed on Monday that the famed escapist Harry Houdini had made an intervention in German politics over the weekend.

At a summit on Sunday between Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), the two sister parties managed to come to agreement on an argument that has hammered a wedge between them since late 2015.

SEE ALSO: Merkel finally agrees to 'refugee cap' after tricky summit with Bavarian ally

After hundreds of thousands of refugees arrived in the country in 2015, CSU leader Horst Seehofer called for an Obergrenze (upper limit) on the number of asylum seekers that come to Germany each year. Merkel consistently rejected the demand, saying that the right to asylum was non-negotiable.

But after both parties leaked around a million votes to the far-right Alternative to Germany at the national election in September, both seem to have decided it is time for a rethink.

Sunday's deal sets out a cap on the number of refugee arrivals at 200,000 in a year - exactly the number Seehofer has been calling for for the past two years.

But the escapist element comes in the fact that they have avoided using the word Obergrenze, and instead talked of a cap.

Crucially the agreement also allows for the cap to be broken in exceptional circumstances. International and national developments might mean that the government has to adjust the cap "up or down", but it will do so in consultation with the parliament, the agreement states.

And the escapism seems to have worked, at least inside the two parties. CDU leaders have praised it for ensuring that it did not impinge on the absolute right to asylum, while the CSU have proclaimed it as the introduction of an upper limit and described themselves as "very satisfied."

Photo: DPA

'Inhumane haggling'

But, while trickery with words may have helped Merkel come to an agreement with the CSU, she also has to coax the Green Party and the Free Democrats (FDP) into a coalition. And leaning towards the CSU's demands on refugees could have just made this considerably harder.

The Green Party have unequivocally rejected the Obergrenze, while the FDP have also said that Germany cannot make compromises on the absolute right to asylum.

Simone Peter, the chairwoman of the Green Party, said on Monday that the cap on refugee numbers was an Obergrenze in all but name.

“Where is the difference to an upper limit? This number is completely arbitrary, it has been set through ideology. We believe in a basic right to asylum,” she tweeted.

She also pointed out in an interview with broadcaster WDR that the Merkel-Seehofer agreement contained further elements which the Green Party reject, such as the creation of asylum centres and the expansion of the safe countries of origin.

In the agreement, Merkel and Seehofer committed to setting up asylum centres to which refugees would immediately be sent when they arrive in the country. Refugees would live in these centres until the applications are dealt with. If they are rejected, the person would be sent directly home from the centre.

The agreement also states that the number of countries Germany considers “safe countries of origin” should be extended to include Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

“We won’t let ourselves become a plaything of the Christian Union on the humanitarian question of asylum,” Peter said.

“We’ll go into coalition talks and we’ll make our concerns clear. Either it’ll work out or it won’t. Both options are possible.”

The agreement was also sharply criticized by refugee association Pro Asyl, which claimed it was ”a contravention of European human rights law.”

“This is inhumane haggling that is being presented to the public as a solution when in fact it is illegal and comes at the cost of those who need protection,” said ProAyl head Günter Burkhardt.

ProAyl are influential opinion makers among Green voters. While the CDU might be able to sell the agreement to their voters as a victory against the Obergrenze, the Green party won't find it so easy.

With DPA

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