Germany coalition deadlock broken after apparent refugee deal

The breakthrough clears the way for a deal that would allow Angela Merkel to continue as German leader despite election setback

German Chancellor Angela Merkel reads her files prior to the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin on January 31, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Tobias SCHWARZ
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A key stumbling block to forming a new coalition government in Germany has been removed after the two biggest parties agreed to admit at least 1,000 family members of refugees into the country every month from August, politicians and media said.

The migration issue has emerged as one of the most difficult issues in the talks between Angela Merkel’s centre-right bloc and the rival Social Democrats who had pushed for a more lenient policy on reuniting the families of people who fled war in Syria and Iraq.

The talks are continuing four months after national elections threw Germany into turmoil when both parties fared worse with major gains for nationalists critical of Mrs Merkel’s 2015 decision to take in more than one million refugees.

The country’s two largest parties are now seeking to resolve policy differences to resume a coalition that led Germany from 2013 and continue Mrs Merkel’s 13-year grip on power as a four-term chancellor of the European Union’s most successful economy.

In the face of the unprecedented challenge to her leadership from nationalists, Mrs Merkel had sought to strike a harder line on the issue of family reunification. The compromise deal should clear the way for a full coalition deal, German media reported.

Social Democrats said the agreement will allow 1,000 family members of refugees to come to the country every month plus an extra undefined number of extra “special hardship” cases when the programme starts on August 1.

The Social Democrats said the deal did not go as far as they wanted but said it was a “significant improvement over the status quo” since the scheme had been suspended for two years, according to a Facebook post by SPD deputy leader Ralf Stegner.

He claimed that discussions about “special hardship” cases had led to a significant concession and details continued to be discussed, said Mr Stegner. Analysts said the special hardship cases would have only limited impact as they were invoked only 100 times last year, according to refugee groups.


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Mrs Merkel’s Bavarian sister party – the Christian Social Union – had pushed for strict limits on numbers during the talks. Its negotiators denied that the SPD had secured any new concessions.

“There are no new regulations for cases of particular hardship,” Alexander Dobrindt of the CSU was quoted as saying by Deutsche Welle.

The deal was essential for both the coalition talks – with any agreed deal still weeks away - and for Germany and its migration policy.

The suspension of the policy to reunite families was due to end on July 31, lifting the barrier on family members travelling to Germany in the absence of any new deal.

Germany was among the most open countries to refugees following a surge of mass migration into Europe driven by war in Middle East and North Africa from 2015.

In the three years to 2017, more than three million new asylum applications were made in European Union countries, according to the UN’s refugee agency. Most sought to reach the richer states in Germany, Sweden and Britain leading to concerns about pressure on public services and community tensions.

There are about 200,000 Syrian war refugees in Germany with estimates of family members eligible to join them ranging from 50,000 to several hundred thousand, according to website Politico.

Germany’s generous policy on allowing family members to join refugees was seized on by Germany nationalists as allowing unfettered arrivals in the country and contributed to Mrs Merkel’s loss of support last year.