BERLIN, June 13 (Xinhua) -- As German Chancellor and Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Angela Merkel hosted an "integration summit" at her office on Wednesday, the country's interior minister Horst Seehofer was conspicuously absent.
Seehofer, who leads the CDU's Bavarian Christian Social union (CSU) sister party, told the press that he turned down his own invitation to protest an article penned by one of the event's keynote speakers which accused him of pandering to anti-immigrant sentiment.
Observers of the increasingly fractious politics in Germany's ruling "grand coalition" would be forgiven for thinking, however, there was more to the interior minister's refusal to come to the federal chancellery.
After all, the week leading up to the "integration summit" once again witnessed the public eruption of a stand-off between Merkel and Seehofer over the German refugee policy which has become emblematic of the two conservative politicians' relationship. Having prepared a lengthy "migration master plan" in his interior ministry, Seehofer was abruptly forced to postpone the publication of the proudly-announced document after the chancellor attacked elements of the draft text. Specifically, Merkel ruled out turning back asylum seekers at the German border who have already been registered in another Schengen area country.
The failure to obtain Merkel's support for his "master plan" was a personal embarrassment for Seehofer who has repeatedly faced criticism in Germany for talking a tough game on immigration without being able to deliver any concrete results. Among these, is a stalled initiative to create a handful of new "anchor centers" across Germany in order to create a central processing of asylum seekers.
Seehofer's party, traditionally a close legislative ally of the CDU, has since been quick to rally around its leader following his involuntary turnaround on the immigration policy document. "This is not just about being right, but also doing the right thing. That is why we will not give in," CSU secretary general Markus Blume warned in Germany's biggest newspaper "BILD".
Worryingly for Merkel, the CSU's sentiments on implementing a stricter national regime for border controls increasingly appears to be shared by members of her own party. Not a single one of the 13 delegates from both parties who participated in a heated debate within the joint CDU/CSU parliamentary faction on Tuesday supported the chancellor's position on refugee policy.
CDU delegate Christian von Stettner was particularly outspoken in his demands to follow Seehofer's proposal to turn back asylum seekers at the German border if they first entered the European free travel area via another Schengen zone country. Speaking to the newspaper "Augsburger Allgemeine" on Wednsday, von Stetten said there could be "no compromise" on the question of whether or not to reinstate the earlier "Dublin regime" in this fashion which was temporarily suspended during the refugee crisis. As a consequence, he called for a simple "yes or no" vote within the CDU/CSU parliamentary to resolve the issue once and for all.
Merkel and her allies on refugee policy have argued that a return to the Dublin regulations would create a damaging domino effect within the European Union (EU), with states unilaterally sealing their internal borders to prevent having to shoulder any political and economic costs associated with accepting a disproportionate number of asylum seekers. In spite of a less than promising track record in the wake of the 2015 influx, the chancellor continues to emphasize that a joint European solution on asylum policy offers the best way forward.
At least in part, Merkel's appeals to EU solidarity and enhanced cooperation is likely to be motivated by recent elections in Italy. The new governing cabinet in Rome is made up of populist political forces which have long complained that the Southern European country does not receive enough assistance from other EU members in its efforts to secure the Schengen area's Mediterranean border.
The German chancellor knows that the success of ambitious and much-needed reforms of the EU and the eurozone debated in the continent's capitals cannot succeed in a climate of mistrust between member states. Additionally, Germany will find it even harder to build a unified European coalition in opposition to the protectionist agenda of U.S. President Donald Trump if Berlin is simultaneously seen to be turning its back on neighboring states in asylum policy.