Bavarians confront Merkel in German migrant policy showdown

Angela Merkel Donald Trump

It is also highly unusual for bilateral meetings to take place between government members of differing ranks, such as a leader and an interior minister, and the much-publicised episode contributed to making Merkel look increasingly isolated.

The announcement by Kurz in Berlin after talks with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer marks a shot across the bow at Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is trying to pull together a deal for European Union cooperation on placing asylum seekers. While it fits in with the idea that asylum seekers should not "shop" for the country that gives it the best welcome and benefits, Merkel has feared that copycat laws would follow across Europe, as one country after another would close its borders to avoid becoming the receptacle for all of the continent's undocumented migrants.

Merkel was re-elected for a fourth term in September but saw her ruling majority depleted by voter unease over the influx of more than one million migrants in 2015-16.

- Now political concerns have emerged that could compound its problems as a split emerges within German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc.

Kurz won the chancellery a year ago in an alliance with the far-right vowing to tackle illegal immigration, an issue that also propelled a populist alliance to power in Italy.

Seehofer, in sharp contrast to Merkel, has voiced open sympathies for right-wing populist governments that are tough on immigration, from Hungary to Austria and Italy. Other European Union members, including France and the United Kingdom, have hardened their immigration laws.

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Angela Merkel has a mutiny on her hands. Turning back migrants at the border, she said this week, would only add pressure to neighboring countries such as Italy and Greece.

'I think it marks very sensible cooperation that will contribute to reducing illegal migration to Europe, ' Kurz told reporters at a convivial news conference with Seehofer, in marked contrast with the far more formal exchange he had with Merkel late Tuesday. Germany now allows such migrants into the country as their cases are reviewed. Some are saying that Mr. Seehofer could disobey the chancellor, his boss, and enforce his plan.

Merkel rejects the idea, fearing it would be seen in the European Union as Germany going it alone and that it would hurt over-burdened frontline Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece.

Seehofer's main demand is that asylum seekers should be turned back at the German border if it is established that they entered the European Union in another country or if they have already applied for asylum in Germany and had their applications turned down. On Saturday, a rejected Iraqi asylum seeker suspected of raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl was detained after a foiled attempt to return to Iraq.

Merkel's recalcitrance has put her on a clear collision course with Seehofer, whose CSU, theoretically a sister party of Merkel's CDU in the large state of Bavaria, has grown increasingly rebellious.

The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party said Mr Seehofer must prevail in the battle with Mrs Merkel.

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