A resolution to Germany’s government crisis has proved elusive after the head of the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union in Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc offered his resignation rather than back down from his stance against the chancellor’s migration policies.
A nearly eight-hour meeting of the CSU in Munich was put on hold after the party’s leader, interior minister Horst Seehofer, made his offer to resign both from Mrs Merkel’s Cabinet and as head of the CSU.
After further talks with a smaller group of CSU officials seeking to change his mind, Mr Seehofer said he had agreed to meet again with Mrs Merkel’s party before he made his decision final.
“We’ll have more talks today with the CDU in Berlin with the hope that we can come to an agreement,” Mr Seehofer told reporters just before 2am on Monday.
Officials of Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrat party broke off their own separate meeting in Berlin about an hour earlier, saying they would resume at 8.30am.
If Mr Seehofer does step down, it is not immediately clear what effect the move would have on a three-week impasse between Mrs Merkel and her CSU partners, which has centred on his resolve to turn away some types of asylum seekers at Germany’s borders.
Mrs Merkel has insisted on Europe-wide solutions to handling the waves of foreigners trying to reach the continent and the standoff could spell the end of her fourth government.
She maintained earlier on Sunday that a plan to regulate immigration that European Union leaders approved on Friday and other agreements she hashed out with several key countries would accomplish what Mr Seehofer seeks.
“The sum total of everything we have agreed upon has the same effect” as what Mr Seehofer has demanded, Mrs Merkel said in an interview with ZDF television.
“That is my personal opinion. The CSU must naturally decide that for itself.”
But the German news agency dpa reported that Mr Seehofer told the meeting of CSU officials that he thinks the measures do not adequately accomplish his goals.
Mr Seehofer did not comment on that during his brief statement to journalists after his party’s meeting.
Mr Seehofer, whose party faces a state election in the autumn with a strong challenge from the far-right Alternative for Germany party, has threatened to turn away at the borders migrants whose asylum requests Germany already rejected or who already sought asylum elsewhere in Europe.
Mrs Merkel has rejected that approach, saying Germany needs to address migration more broadly to preserve EU unity.
If Mr Seehofer were to go ahead with his policies, the dispute could end the decades-old conservative alliance between the CSU and the CDU.
The leader of the opposition Left Party, Katja Kipping, criticised Mr Seehofer, saying that the “CSU is taking all of Germany and Europe hostage for an internal power struggle”.
“Horst Seehofer is not concerned with finding a solution to migration policy; he wants to open the door to right-wing populism and overthrow the chancellor,” she said.
Mrs Merkel and Mr Seehofer met for two hours on Saturday night.
The German leader would not comment on Sunday on the talks.
She also would not speculate on whether she might fire him or if the issue could lead to a government confidence vote in parliament.
She said she would wait to see what the leadership of the two parties decides “and then we will see what comes next, step for step”.
Mrs Merkel reiterated her position that if countries start turning migrants away at national borders unilaterally, it would cause neighbouring countries to close their borders and jeopardise the border-free movement within the EU.
She said the decision by leaders of European Union countries on Friday to strengthen the 28-nation bloc’s exterior borders and her proposal for “anchor centres” to process migrants at Germany’s borders would work better.
“I want Europe to remain together,” she said. “That is why the unified action of Europe is so important to me.”
Mrs Merkel also secured agreement from Greece and Spain to take back from Germany migrants who previously registered in those countries.
She said 14 other nations had given verbal assent to work towards similar deals.