Merkel’s Government Wobbles Over Immigrant Row as Italy Threatens Canada Trade Deal

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.

More from DW:

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Steve H.

    Okay, so financial liberalism allows free flow of capital across borders at a rate faster than labor can move.

    Immigrations of prey species locally benefit predators, but can pull resources from indigenous prey species.

    The border issue within Germany maps to a critical marker. While I struggle with European complexities, somehow this rings true.

  2. Marshall Auerback

    The Italian position on the Canada-EU trade deal provides a brief glimpse about what lies in store for the UK as it exercises its “sovereignty” and abandons the Single Market.

  3. The Rev Kev

    If there was going to be any region that Merkel was going to have trouble with, I would have bet that it was going to be Bavaria. Went there a coupla times a very long time ago and the region always looked like a conservative region to me. An American equivalent might be the deep south from what I saw.
    Merkel is still facing the blow-back from opening the doors and letting in a million or more unidentified migrants and refugees. What was worse was that she then turned around to the rest of the countries in the EU and told them: ‘Right, now you have to take in a share of all these people that we let in!’ Countries like Hungary said no and slammed their doors shut.
    Even in Germany there was a lot of chaos in how all these refugees were handled. There was one tiny village back of woop-woop that was told that they were being allocated about 200 refugees and that they were all your problem now. God knows where they put all those people. For America, it would be like the President opening up the Mexican border area and letting in about four million people all in one go without a plan or resources in place.

    1. 4Corners

      Bavaria is the one if the richest states in Germany–hardly comparable to the Deep South in the US. And are you suggesting that objecting to a “million or more unidentifed migrants” is a feature of conservatism?

  4. Rosario

    Please forgive me if this has been covered on NC before, and I suppose my question is in response to Merkel’s, and all the other EU centrists for that matter, (feigned) aloofness on the issue of migration and refugees.

    Has there been a single instance where a prominent EU politician has connected the massive amount of immigration and refugees to US (and often their own) foreign policy in West/North Africa and the Middle East?

    This chart, I assume, represents officially recognized asylum seekers.

    After 2011 it seems like a Syria/Libya bump to me, but what do I know.

    All I ever seem to read about are the centrists ignoring the gorilla in the corner and the far right table-bashers ranting about migrants using every dog whistle at their disposal. Is imperial foreign policy as unassailable in the EU as it is in the US? One would think the Europeans would have learned a lesson or two after the 20th century.

    I’m becoming more willing to accept that this behavior is on purpose, but I cannot figure out why.

    People don’t often leave their homeland for no reason…

    1. Katsue

      I’m not aware of any such instance, though I remember plenty of commentary to the effect that Russia’s intervention in Syria was part of a plot by Vladimir Putin to destabilise Europe by sending waves of Syrian refugees fleeing in our direction.

    2. Alex Cox

      Strangely the mainstream media don’t ever seem to make a connection between our destruction of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia and other countries and “waves of refugees” from those same places.

      I wonder why!

      1. jsn

        In 1974 my Spanish teacher in 6th grade was a refugee from Chile where her husband, a politically active professor had been “disappeared” by Pinochet.

        1979 I watched 9 boys from my dorm at military school move back to Iran to fight in the revolution, 3 for the Mullahs and 6 for the Shaw.

        By 1984 the firm where I began my residency was running an underground railway for Guatemalans and Nicaraguans.

        My ammosexual older brother had similar experiences, growing up in the same melieu, he’s plenty bright and ended up on the far right, taking I suppose personal lessons from events and people from whom I drew general conclusions.

        The US has been manufacturing refugees much longer than we’ve been alive but has almost always held out enough “shiny objects” to keep most of us on board with it. I think we’re at one of those moments where the shine comes off.

    3. Mark

      To my knowledge it has not been said by anyone from the ruling coalitions of the last 20years but politicians from Die Linke and AfD (not certain) have pointed it out on occasion. Similarly there is enough information even in the most mainstream of news (like Tagesschau) for everyone to figure it out themselves but one has to search a bit to find it constantly expressed as a sentiment.

    4. fajensen

      I’m becoming more willing to accept that this behavior is on purpose, but I cannot figure out why.

      The purpose is to destroy those Profane European welfare states by overloading them with people who will mostly never be able to contribute and to create dissent amongst the underclass competing over jobs and housing with immigrants so that they literally will fight each other (needing more surveillance, police brutality and whatever) and also use politics to fight “the other” sucking up “political bandwith” away from the more “threatening to elite interests”-discussions.

      It is part of a very coordinated effort to destroy any faith in that representative democracy actually represents anyone and is capable of solving problems. I think it is mainly being run out of some consultancy outfit in Langley with quite a lot of “free enterprise” mixed into the effort!

      On notice that the Social Democrats are quite happy to assume anti-immigrant views while they are very adamant about not thinking or uttering anything that is somehow strengthening labour against employers or capital.

      Seen as class-traitors and generally useless, they are being slowly wiped out by the authoritarians, who wants to smash stuff “because immigrants”.

      Not happy times, although, Brexit seems to have re-lit a long-dead fire in the belly of the EU regarding the “Social Dimension” of the EU (of course there could be a wheels-within-wheels plot of making the EU popular by the EU replacing those useless local democracies who are beholden only to elite interests with more a competent and caring regime).

  5. disc_write

    Votes of confidence in German politics are a rarity (speaking as an Italian). It is not clear that things will get that far, but this is a major blow to Merkel’s government.

    And Merkel is pretty much the last defender of the status quo in Europe.

    If Germany goes the way of Italy with Salvini and Austria with Kurz, it is pretty much the end of any European immigration policy. Schengen is not far behind.


    About Italy, the CETA thing kind of follows from the immigration debacle. First they go after the free movement of persons, then after the free movement of goods. Soon (after QE? After Draghi’s term?) they will go after the free movement of capital.

    The new government seems hell-bent on destroying not just the Euro, but the whole postwar European order.


    Of course, Savona did not change his mind. He has stayed of the same opinion over the years: the Euro must be renegotiated. No country can negotiate without a credible threat to leave the table, if necessary.

    I know that all media everywhere in the whole universe were repeating the opposite ad nauseam. That’s called framing.

    – The link to the Huffington Post contains nowhere the statement that Savona wants Italy out of the Euro.

    – The link to the Il Tirreno article is the automatic translation of the re-publication of a press release. That is as much a “press report” as copy-pasting from Wikipedia is scientific research. No journalist of Il Tirreno was actually present. Others were and put Savona’s words in a better context. And actually *signed* the article. This is probably the press release in question.

    I find Savona’s comments on Germany’s Nazi past distasteful and unfair, but Joschka Fischer said something along the same lines:

    “Twice in the 20th century, Germany destroyed with military means the European order and itself. (…) It would be a tragic irony if a united Germany, with peaceful means and the best of intentions, were to cause the destruction of the European order for a third time. But such is the risk.”

    (the whole interview is worth a read)

  6. J7915

    What is it with “the south”, of so many countries? Never mind the deep souths.

    Isn’t handling economic problems the responsibility of free markets?

  7. Kurt Sperry

    Doesn’t the whole concept of the EU from the average mope’s perspective kind of hinge on having open borders internally? Setting up passport controls within the EU seems like a frank admission that the entire concept has become unworkable.

    I was traveling from Italy to France via train recently and the station at the Italian border town of Ventimiglia was crawling with uniformed customs and immigration sorts and with submachine gun toting soldiers and people’s papers were being checked. I suppose the fact that people who look like I do were simply waved through and the checks were focused on darker complected types was supposed to mollify the majority of Europeans that the border controls aren’t aimed at them. But, even explicit racial profiling aside, it felt very much to me like a profound failure of the basic underpinnings of the EU. The Ventimiglia border controls felt harder to me than the controls entering the EU from Switzerland, which is actually an EU frontier. That doesn’t add up to me.

    1. MisterMr

      I totally agree on this.

      The controls at Ventimiglia were there presumably because there has been some tension between France and Italy about migrants who want to go from Italy to France.

      Since said migrants are generally of african origin, the “racial profiling” thing is sadly totally true.

      1. Petter

        The racial profiling may be sad but it’s logical. The Guardian did a story on Ventimiglia yesterday.

        French police cut soles off migrant children’s shoes, claims Oxfam”
        From story – Ventimiglia has become a bottleneck for people attempting to cross from Italy into France. Oxfam said that at least 16,500 migrants, a quarter of them children, passed through the town in the nine months to April.

  8. David

    Temporary Border Controls are already in place for France, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway (source).

    The EU allows countries to impose temporary border controls for up to a six month renewable period for “a serious threat to public policy”.

    Looking at the history (here); Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, and Germany have been renewing their six month border controls for some time. Their justification includes “threats resulting from the continuous significant secondary movements”.

  9. marku52

    This seems the inevitable consequence of the limits to growth, the failure of neoliberal austerity, and the failure of globalization to lift living standards anywhere except Asia and for the top 10% in the West.

    Ask any polity anywhere if they think their lives will be improved by adding 5% to the population. In the resource limited world of the limits to growth, and competition for scarce resources, the answer is obviously “No”.

    And of course, the US foreign policy of destabilizing state after state makes it all so much worse.

    Expect a lot more of politicians exploiting immigration….

    1. 4Corners

      You begin by validating concerns of mass immigration and its effect on standards of living. Yet you go on to say that it’s an issue “exploited” by politicians? If the electorate is rightly concerned, shouldn’t politicians be responsive?

      I’m with you on the root causes, and sympathetic to the plights of all migrants–whether merely economic or because of war. But for progressives to so glibly dismiss legitimate concerns over mass immigration is to invite a nastier form of demogogery.

  10. TedHunter

    To me, the media depiction of the “hot summer” of 2015 is full of open questions:
    1.) The refugee crisis started for pretty much everyone when TV news brought pictures of refugees crossing from Serbia to Hungary by walking through a corn field. Hungary is a EU member and part of the Schengen Treaty, Serbia is neither. In reaction to those pictures, Hungary started to build a fence in late August 2015. The images could have raised the following question: how did Hungary get into Schengen without a simple fence on its outer border with Serbia, as other countries invested € 2,1 billion and did not get in (Romania, Bulgaria). Remember, the Schengen Treaty allowed for internal borders to evaporate (say, Hungary – Austria, Hungary Slovakia), while the outer borders of the Schengen space were vastly improved – or so the story goes – (for example Hungary – Serbia). Or: where the hell did the EU money go which was supposed to “help” Hungary build the fence before entering the Schengen space (in late 2007)? When Hungary started to build the fence in 2015, the media reading of the event was: the right-wing East Europeans are building fences and thus dividing Europe. Never mind that Schengen allows for border controls for a football game or a concert.
    2.) In the many months (!) before the refugee crisis, the German MSM had one topic, and one topic only: Greece. This topic disappeared completely and has never reappeared since August 2015. Was the Greek issue solved? Had the coverage been overblown in the first place?

  11. Altandmain

    As a Canadian, I hope this CETA goes up in flames.


    I believe at the time, this was written before Brexit.

    Also, this short summary captures it:

    This was also written while Stephen Harper was Prime Minister of Canada, but the gist of it is correct.

    Trade with Europe would be a good idea if it meant more good jobs and better social services. But like all “free trade” agreements, the CETA is not about that. It’s about boosting corporate rights, lowering environmental standards, and weakening public services. As currently written, the CETA will threaten many aspects of our lives, from our public services, to our jobs, our environment, our food, our culture, our telecommunications, our water and resources — even our democratic rights!

    Another giveaway to corporations disguised as free trade.

Comments are closed.