Seehofer and his allies had hoped that a row over migration would bring down Angela Merkel. They under-estimated herby Matthew Qvortrup / July 3, 2018 / Leave a comment
“Merkel wins first half,” was the headline on the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s live-commentary of Angela Merkel and her Home Secretary Horst Seehofer’s Monday night meeting.
Having been deprived of following the World Cup past the group stage, the summit was reported with all the drama and hysteria that normally characterize a penalty shoot-out.
But before we enter into the climactic final, it is necessary to go back to the first half of the battle between Merkel and Seehofer.
One side, composed of Seehofer and his Bavarian comrades in the Christian Social Union party (CSU), had played aggressively, threatening to turn away immigrants from Germany’s southern border. Although on shaky legal ground, Seehofer forced Merkel to play defensively.
The impression—especially abroad—was that Merkel was going the way of Joachim Low’s Fußballnationalmannschaft, and there was a palpable sense of Schadenfreude in British conservative publications like the Daily Mail and the Spectator.
As it turned out, these predictions were, as so often before, based on wishful thinking rather than facts. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Horst Seehofer’s focus was on the state elections in Bavaria in October this year. The CSU is defending an absolute majority of seats in the local parliament.
However, after losses to the far-right AfD in last year’s Bundestag elections, his party is in danger of losing their overall control in the Landtag in Munich. To avoid this, the CSU want a sharper profile, especially on immigration.
To this end, Seehofer announced that Germany should go it alone instead of seeking a common European position, and that Bavaria would stop immigrants at the border. Constitutionally, he cannot do so. But Merkel would have to sack him if he ignored her. And this could lead to her downfall.
It was this which was his main aim. In this, he was supported by Markus Söder, who had replaced Seehofer as State Premier after the latter moved to Berlin to become minister of the interior. The two Bavarians have never forgiven Merkel for turning the once Catholic conservative CDU into a secular and centrist party.
Seemingly on the backfoot, Merkel was playing for time. Seehofer granted her time to find the “European solution” to the migrant crisis that had eluded her for two…