German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked the neighboring EU member states to readmit migrants that try to cross to Germany from their territory in an attempt to soothe a domestic political fight over immigration. Berlin approached Austria, Greece, Italy and Bulgaria and also liaised with the European Commission. Ms. Merkel’s decision to reach out to the neighbors came in response to her own interior minister, Horst Seehofer, saying that he could close the country’s border to certain groups of illegal migrants.
The dispute erupted earlier this month when Mr. Seehofer, who was going to introduce a 63-point “master-plan” to deal with immigration, unexpectedly canceled his presentation after Ms. Merkel vetoed one of the plan’s measures – the decision to turn back migrants with an open asylum application in another EU country. At the moment, all asylum seekers can enter Germany pending a review of their applications. However, Mr. Seehofer’s intention to close down the border would be in opposition to the EU’s document-free travel zone, curbing cross-border economic activity and sparking even more political tension.
Making EU countries readmit the migrants might prove to be very difficult. Italian officials have already indicated that they would not agree to taking migrants from Germany back. Berlin confirmed that that a possible summit of the EU leaders is being considered but no details have been given yet. In an op-ed for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung and a few newspaper interviews, Mr. Seehofer sounded more conciliatory, emphasizing the urgency of implementing his master plan but also denying that his intention was to topple the Chancellor. “The perception of a loss of control but also abdication of control have strengthened the populist forces in Europe. The political leadership of Germany and Europe must therefore convince citizens that we can manage migration, that we have control over events,” Mr. Seehofer wrote.