BERLIN — The fallout was swift the morning after German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached an uneasy late-night immigration compromise with hard-line coalition allies, an agreement that appears to have saved her fragile government, at least for now.
To keep her government intact, Merkel was essentially forced to abandon the “Willkommenskultur,” or culture of welcoming, that she had preached in 2015, when she welcomed nearly 1 million migrants and refugees into Germany. With stricter border controls, transit camps and discretionary identification checks soon to be imposed on the nation’s southern border, the future of the freedom of movement, a core European principle, may now be at stake in the heart of the Schengen zone, a 26-nation area where border controls have been abolished.
Facing a potential insurrection from Horst Seehofer, her interior minister and leader of her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, or CSU, Merkel agreed that migrants will no longer be able to enter Germany from Austria without any checks, that they will be processed in “transit centers” at the border, and that an agreement would be made with Austria in the event that migrants ineligible for asylum are not accepted back by the European Union countries where they first arrived.
Early Tuesday, the Austrian government, headed by the right-wing, anti-migrant Sebastian Kurz, announced that it had no interest in becoming embroiled in German politics. In the event that Merkel’s compromise becomes law, “we will be obliged to take measures to avoid disadvantages for Austria and its people,” the government declared in a statement.
Merkel’s compromise still depends on approval from her other coalition partner, the Social Democrats, or SPD. Party representatives have said they have “many questions” about the notion of camps along the border. But they appear unlikely to reject the proposal out of hand and trigger a new round of elections, in which they would stand to lose.
Talks between Merkel, the CSU and SPD continued Tuesday evening.
In Vienna, Kurz’s government also said that if Germany approves this plan, Austria would have no choice but to respond with a version of its own, taking “measures to protect our southern borders in particular.” Controls between Germany and Austria, as well between Austria and Italy, where hundreds of thousands of migrants initially arrived, could trigger a domino effect inside an E.U. already on edge over the migrant question.