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Merkel facing battle to save her coalition as immigration row splits Europe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron (not seen) hold a joint press conference as they attend the European Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium on December 15, 2017 [Dursun Aydemir / Anadolu Agency]
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the European Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium on 15 December, 2017 [Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency]

Angela Merkel is to hold last-ditch talks to save her coalition government this weekend amid a major European rift over migrant policy.

The German chancellor is facing open rebellion from her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, over his plans to turn away migrants at the German border. Mrs Merkel has blocked the measure but Mr Seehofer is threatening to impose it unilaterally if he doesn’t win agreement by Monday – essentially daring the chancellor to sack him.

As leader of her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), Mr Seehofer could pull it out of Mrs Merkel’s coalition if he is fired, depriving her of a majority in parliament.

With both sides refusing to back down, German political commentators on Friday warned that the stand-off could potentially bring down the government, and even mean the end of Mrs Merkel’s term as chancellor.

READ: Germany to spend 78 billion euros on migrants in next 4 years

On Friday, French president Emmanuel Macron came out in support of Mrs Merkel. “Countries are committed to the paths taken by their heads of state or government,” the French president said, speaking at a press conference in Paris alongside Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Mr Macron also spoke out against the proposed hardline “axis” on migration formed this week by the interior ministers of Italy, Germany and Austria. He said:

I don’t trust these catchphrases which did not bring us luck in the course of history

But the French president was at also pains to put on a united front with the leader of Italy’s new populist government, after a week in which he had clashed over their hardline on immigration

Mr Macron and Mr Conte called for the European Union to set up asylum processing centres in African nations which have seen an exodus towards Europe in recent years.

Up to 77% of migrants face abuse, exploitation and trafficking - Refugee crisis, Libya - Cartoon [Hani Abbas/MiddleEastMonitor]

Up to 77% of migrants face abuse, exploitation and trafficking – Refugee crisis, Libya – Cartoon [Hani Abbas/MiddleEastMonitor]

The Aquarius, the ship carrying more then 600 migrants that sparked the row between the two after Italy refused it permission to dock, is now on its way to the Spanish port of Valencia.

READ: Italy prepares to ship migrants to Spain

At the heart of the dispute are Mr Seehofer’s plans to turn away migrants who have already registered in another European Union country at Germany’s borders.

Under the EU’s Dublin rules, Germany can return migrants to the first EU member state they enter, but only after they apply for asylum in Germany, a time-consuming and expensive process.

Mrs Merkel has so far blocked the proposals, arguing it could fatally undermine her efforts to agree on a new EU-wide migrant policy at the next European summit in two weeks.

But her opponents say she is more concerned at being seen to close the borders now after keeping them open during the influx of 2015.

Mr Seehofer says Germany needs a solution to the migrant issue now and cannot wait.

And sources within the party told the German press on Friday they were ready to go with the “nuclear option” if Mrs Merkel doesn’t back down.

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