BERLIN (Reuters) - The leader of Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies has supported proposals put forward by a rising star in their conservative bloc to tighten controls on asylum seekers at Germany’s borders, raising pressure on the chancellor to toughen her position.
Last year, Merkel’s conservatives met fierce resistance from the Social Democrats over plans for transit zones at border crossings to process refugees’ asylum requests, and had to deny such centers would resemble concentration camps.
On Monday, Horst Seehofer, head of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), welcomed proposals from Julia Kloeckner for “border centers” on the Austrian frontier to speed up the repatriation of migrants who are deemed unqualified for asylum.
“We will exhaust all political and legal means from Bavaria,” Seehofer, whose southern state is the point of entry into Germany for most refugees, told a news conference in Munich.
“The people expect that of us,” he said, reiterating a threat to take Merkel’s government to court if his plea to stem the flow of asylum seekers across Germany’s borders is not met.
Germany took in 1.1 million asylum seekers last year, leading to calls from across the political spectrum to take measures to slow the flow of arrivals.
Kloeckner, who must win an election in her western state of Rhineland-Palatinate in March to cement her power base, has quietly positioned herself as a leading candidate to replace Merkel when she finally leaves office.
While Kloeckner poses no immediate threat to Merkel, Seehofer’s endorsement for her plans shows the level of frustration with Merkel’s refugee policy.
“It is not important for us how you classify these plans, A1, A2 or B, or something else,” he said, referring to the “Plan A2” rather than “Plan B” label that Kloeckner put on her proposals.
“The most important thing is that these plans exist.”
Merkel has tried to convince other European countries to take in quotas of refugees, pushed for reception centers to be built on Europe’s external borders, and led an EU campaign to try to convince Turkey to keep refugees from entering the bloc.
But progress has been slow and support for the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) has edged up into double digits.
Asked about accusations, including by pollsters, that CSU pressure on Merkel is fuelling the rise of AfD, Seehofer said: “We are not the cause of the actual situation, the cause is Berlin. The shadow of the AfD will fast disappear when solutions to the problems work.”
Editing by Caroline Copley and Louise Ireland