BERLIN — Angela Merkel has yielded. It was just this past Saturday that the chancellor's sticking to her guns had brought her Interior Minister Horst Seehofer to the threat of resignation over the government's migration policy, the issue that has created a deep wedge between the pair. For her relentlessly tough stance on the matter, Merkel had obtained the full backing of her executive committees on Sunday evening. But the next day, in the span of just a few hours, everything changed.
Together with Seehofer, the German chancellor and the chairwoman of her CDU party, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, approved a paper in which the word Zurückweisung ("rejection") appears. The word is framed by a number of references to future administrative agreements still to be negotiated with other countries. Not 24 hours earlier, the Interior Minister and leader of the CSU party (the CDU's sister party in Bavaria) had described it as "adventurous' to wait for such future agreements. And now he approves the procedure. With whom?
With "the person I helped get on the saddle," as Seehofer was quoted as saying in Süddeutsche Zeitung, five hours before the agreement was reached. That person. That woman. That witch, one is tempted to read in Seehofer's statement. Angela Merkel is her name. Support for Seehofer was already visibly crumbling on Monday morning — including in his own party. So it begs the question: What happened between Sunday and Monday evenings?
The members of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, especially part of the CDU's members of parliament, were on the verge of mutiny. Against Seehofer, yes, but especially against Merkel. This is what happened, and it's no trifle that it almost came to that. Merkel certainly had this threat very clearly in mind.
At least 160 representatives had openly warned of a vote in the group as early as this Tuesday. What should have been put to the vote? Probably Seehofer's "master plan" for migration. What would have happened? The famous 63rd point of his plan, the unilateral rejections at the German border, would certainly have been waved through, the majority in group already of the opinion that Merkel and Seehofer should stop arguing about something that really isn't that important. What would that have meant for Merkel?
Germany's Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and Merkel in Berlin on July 3 — Photo: Kay Nietfeld/DPA via ZUMA
A possible defeat in the group. And headlines abroad, especially in Brussels and in the U.S.: Merkel is losing her grip. That would have been the prevailing opinion. Loss of power shortly after the EU summit. Loss of power shortly before a NATO summit that could well turn into a showdown with Donald Trump, with The New York Times reporting that Trump sent a threatening letter to Merkel telling her to finally increase her military spending.
America's patience is running thin. Given this situation, Merkel has decided to postpone the Seehofer problem. Because this is what happened: The issue has only been adjourned. It's a ceasefire — not a peace treaty. With his irreverence, his contemptuous statements about "the person," Seehofer has declared himself as an irredeemable minister. For that was the third time he publicly blackmailed Merkel.
The perpetrators were already in the country.
Still, the shelf life of the current truce might well be very limited. There's a state election in Bavaria in October, one that could see the CSU lose its majority in its home state. And if the polls for the CSU don't improve, a new bone of contention will need to be found in Munich. Perhaps even the issue of refugees, once again. The informal EU summit on migration announced by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz for Sept. 20, three weeks before the Bavarian state elections, will be a key event in this respect. But the transit centers at the border, the "new border regime" and the rejections at the border don't solve the problem that led Seehofer to the conflict in the first place: the feeling among the population of a creeping, spreading danger through assaults, incidents and crimes involving migrants or refugees. The perpetrators, indeed, were already in the country.
So what now for Merkel? She has just averted a possible defeat in her parliamentary group and a considerable loss of power. The experience of near-confrontation with one of her own representatives is now in the back of everyone's mind. From his interior minister's office, Horst Seehofer has an eye on the Chancellor's Office and he looks on, brooding from a distance.
The eyes from the Chancellor's Office look back warily. Every day can bring new developments. Politicians from the CDU and CSU, as well as from their common parliamentary group say this is a community of fate. A community. We will probably get used to the fact that there is a community there again. Only who exactly leads it is no longer quite so certain.