Due to the hour, I’m giving only a high level treatment of a major row in Germany over immigration, and a possible revolt by Italy over the Canada-EU trade deal, CETA.
Merkel’s Forced Retreat on Immigration
Merkel was blindsided by the ferocity of a revolt by her coalition partner, the CSU, over her immigration policy. The German chancellor wants to keep open borders with the Schengren area. One of the implications is that migrants would also be able to move freely. This is at odds with the policy the CSU wants. The short version of the fight, per Politico’s daily Europe newsletter:
Merkel refused to endorse a plan put forward by the CSU’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer to turn back at the German border refugees who have already applied for asylum in other EU countries. The CSU decided that Seehofer ought to be allowed to do whatever is necessary to help the party win regional elections in the south this fall. In essence, the CSU is fighting Merkel to give Seehofer the autonomy to make his own decisions on Germany’s, and hence Europe’s, migration policies
More detail from a Politico story:
Merkel’s refusal to endorse a plan by her Bavarian interior minister to turn back some refugees at the German border set the stage for a showdown that, barring a last-minute compromise, could bring down her government….
The dispute ostensibly revolves around the question of whether Germany should turn back refugees who have applied for asylum in other EU countries. Merkel opposes the policy on the grounds it could hasten the collapse of Europe’s system of open frontiers by forcing Germany’s neighbors to re-impose border controls.
The root of the dispute has less to do with that narrow question, however, than with Merkel’s broader refugee policy, which the CSU has resisted from the beginning…
Bavaria, Germany’s southernmost state, has been the point of entry for most of the refugees who arrived in the country in recent years. As the influx intensified, CSU leaders prodded Merkel to enforce stricter border controls, going as far as threatening to petition Germany’s constitutional court to force her hand…
[Horst] Seehofer, who is now interior minister, demanded an “upper limit” on the number of refugees coming into Germany, a step Merkel long opposed. In order to secure the CSU’s backing for a grand coalition with the Social Democrats in February, Merkel again backed down, accepting a soft limit of about 200,000.
Though refugee arrivals to Germany have fallen sharply — only 64,000 came through April — the CSU is once again asking for further concessions. That’s because the party, which has ruled Bavaria almost without interruption since the war, faces a difficult state election in October, with polls predicting the CSU will lose its absolute majority.
Bear in mind that this row hasn’t been resolved. DW reports that Wolfgang Schäuble is going to mediate.
Merkel is trying to achieve a broader EU level agreement on allowing for open borders internally while making it harder for migrants to enter the EU. That is in line with what Italy wants. However, a lot of countries are taking the Barvarian position, that if immigrants didn’t land there, they shouldn’t be their problem. Merkel hopes to achieve an agreement at the upcoming EU Council meeting at the end of June, but that seems awfully ambitious.
The two conservative parties have been butting heads over [Interior Minister Horst] Seehofer’s “immigration master plan” for overhauling German migration policy.
In particular, Merkel has explicitly ruled out Seehofer’s proposal to turn away migrants and those seeking asylum at Germany’s border who have already registered in other European Union states.
Instead, the chancellor hopes to secure migration agreements with other EU members at a European Union summit in two weeks time.
Seehofer and the CSU have threatened to go off on their own if Merkel won’t agree to their plan. Seehofer is expected to announce the start of border checks on Monday, using his authority as interior minister. If he follows through on the move, Merkel will be put in the difficult position of either backing down from her position or rebuking and possibly firing Seehofer.
Italy Makes More Noise
On the Italy front, on the one hand, the spat with France over Macron criticizing Italy for not receiving a ship with over 600 migrants seems to have died down. Even though Italy’s new finance minister Giovanni Tria canceled a visit to French finance minister Bruno Le Maire, a meeting between French president Emmanuel Macron and Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte is back on after Italy said it would back out of the session unless Macron apologized. Macron made a non-apology apology in a phone call.
Italy is rattling its cage on another front. The Financial Times reports that agriculture minister Gian Marco Centinaio said Italy would not ratify CETA. That would have major implications:
Italy’s new populist government has threatened not to ratify a sweeping EU trade deal with Canada. The move could scupper the entire agreement and deal a huge blow to efforts in Brussels and Ottawa to increase commerce amid growing US protectionism….
The League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, whose coalition government took office this month, have been staunchly critical of free trade agreements negotiated by Brussels in recent years.
In their joint policy platform, the parties said they would “oppose aspects [of trade deals] that would involve an excessive weakening of citizens’ rights, and inflict damage on fair and sustainable competition in the internal market”….
EU officials say serious problems would only arise at the point at which a country such as Italy took a formal position against Ceta, notifying Brussels that its rejection was “permanent and irreversible”.
Such a notification would deal a near-fatal blow to the Ceta agreement — and blow apart the legal basis for the provisional application of its terms. If one parliament did not ratify Ceta, it would be up to EU national governments to discuss the next steps, said an EU official.
The pink paper points out that Centinaio can’t make this call on his own. The foreign minister and economic development minster would presumably need to sign off as well. One reason to think this threat may not come to fruition is that the trade deals weren’t a significant talking point in the March elections.
Another reason to question whether the ruling coalition will follow through is that it continues to retreat on its saber-rattling about possibly leaving the Eurozone. The coalition’s first choice for finance minister, Paolo Savona, the one famously nixed by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, is now claiming he is a Euro supporter, although he says it “must be improved.” Specifically, the Euro “not only has positive aspects but is also essential. If you want a single market, you must have a single currency.”
Savona also denied that he supported a Euro exit: ““A Plan B does not exist and I never asked to leave the Euro.” And no, you are not hallucinating. Press reports less than a month ago about what Savona said would have you believe otherwise.
So we are in the midst of what Lambert would call an overly dynamic situation. I hope readers of the press in Germany and Italy will provide additional tidbits and updates.