Seehofer vs Merkel: What does it mean for the refugee crisis in Germany?

The Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer said that Chancellor Angela Merkel has to find a way to limit the number of refugees arriving via Austria by Sunday or he will consider acting alone. What can Seehofer do in your opinion, and how serious is this rift between Merkel and Seehofer? Read few comments.

Orkan KösemenProject Manager in charge of the Leadership-Programme for Migrant Associations, The Bertelsmann Stiftung

First of all, you have to put statements from Seehofer into context: He is primarily concerned about the CSU (Bavarian branch of the CDU) and the poll surveys in Bavaria. His statements are aiming for Bavarian voters in the first place because the CSU is afraid that they might lose voters to the populist right in Bavaria and possible lose the majority in Bavaria (the CSU are used to govern without a coalition partner). The CSU also has the interesting attitude to be both part of the federal government (via parliamentary faction cooperation with the CDU) and the regional opposition from Bavaria against federal rulings the same time. So, putting pressure on the federal government is part of the CSU identity (regardless if they are part of the federal government or not).

So, Seehofer putting pressure on Merkel is making sure that the Bavarian voters (and partly the conservative voters of the CDU from elsewhere in Germany) have the feeling that the Bavarian government is the main driver for achieving a solution and that the federal government is not “too soft” on the refugee issue. The relationship between Merkel and Seehofer is ambivalent but mainly a functional and pragmatic one, they both need each other even though they are fundamentally different types of politicians.

The CSU hasn’t revealed yet what measures they consider to be “acting alone”, most probably because there is not much a German state can do in federal matters. It cannot close borders or make national decisions. The Bavarian government could go to the national court (with minimal chance of success) or try to blockade federal legislation as they are part of the ruling coalition government. To put it short, the Bavarian government could create trouble for the other political actors without changing the refugee situation. I assume it’s a bargaining strategy to get either more federal funds or – what is more probably – to get the other states to take on more refugees that are supposed to stay in Bavaria (refugees are distributed among the 16 German states according to population and GDP) but nearly all refugees arrive in Bavaria first. He also wants that Merkel persuades Austria to keep more refugees and send less via Bavaria to Germany via Bavaria.

Alexander Spencer, Assistant Professor, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich

The rift between Seehofer and Merkel is growing, but Seehofer can in fact do very little. In my opinion most of Seehofer’s comments on the refuges situation in Bavaria are aimed at voters on the right edge of his constituency. He is worried that he will lose them to the AFD. The rhetoric of Seehofer does however not represent the opinion of the majority in Bavaria in this respect. So I am unsure if this political manoeuvre will pay off, as there is a chance that he is losing more support on the left Christian social side of his party than he is gaining on the right.

Merkel is losing ground in her own party as many in it are reading the declining support the CDU as her fault due to her position on refugees. For Merkel, as a conservative politician, it is hard to argue in favour of refugees, as much of her rhetoric is more in line with the SPD. This is also the reason why the SPD has not taken advantage of Merkel’s growing weakness in her own party.

I personally am not a great fan of Frau Merkel, but one has to admire her personal commitment in favour of refugees regardless of public opinion or concern in her own party. Considering that she has generally followed public opinion and has been known as “Mrs Flip Flop” this is a remarkable change. Similar to Obama she may be aware that she will not be standing for the position of Chancellor again, making her free to do politics as she pleases. Maybe this is actually the first time we are seeing a true Frau Merkel.

Daniel Hough, Professor of Politics, University of Sussex

There are certain issues where Bavarian politicians love to taunt and provoke politicians in Berlin – immigration (in general) is one of them. This even applies to politicians of the same ideological persuasion, as is the case here. Seehofer and colleagues such as Markus Soder have long been suspicious of Angela Merkel’s more liberal inclinations in this policy area, and this is just one more attempt to illustrate their more conservative credentials. Seehofer has been understandably vague about what precisely he plans to do – and that with good reason; there is very little in substantive terms that he can do. Merkel knows that when worries about all aspects of immigration policy surface she can expect criticisms from Bavaria; this is nothing more than par for the course. So, with that in mind, this spat is very likely to simply pass over. That doesn’t mean that Merkel won’t continue developing her own immigration policies, but she is unlikely to do so purely on the grounds that Horst Seehofer is telling her to.

Eric Langenbacher, Associate Teaching Professor, Director of the Senior Honors Program in the Department of Government, Georgetown University

Seehofer and Merkel have had tensions before, but Merkel has been able to out-maneuver him. Of course, this time could be different, but I suspect not. Merkel is quite adept at out-positioning frenemies like Seehofer. But, her polling is down, so maybe she is weaker than it appears.



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