German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached a compromise with her Bavarian allies on limiting migration, clearing an obstacle for talks on forming her next government and responding to an electoral surge by the nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfG) party.
Two weeks after an election that sent support for her Christian Democratic Union (CDU)-led bloc to the lowest level since 1949, setting the political goal of capping migration marks a concession by Merkel, who has resisted pressure by her CSU sister party for a limit.
She now should be able to turn to talks with the Free Democratic Party and Greens on building a coalition contract for her fourth term.
Leaders of the CDU and Christian Social Union (CSU), known together as the Union, agree that net migration to Germany, including asylum-seekers, shouldn’t exceed 200,000 annually, according to a document seen by Bloomberg outlining the deal.
An escape clause allows the ceiling to be raised in case of unexpected “international or national developments.”
“This is a good day for the Union,” Transportation Minister Alexander Dobrindt of the CSU told reporters late last Sunday after all-day talks. Merkel and Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer, who heads the CSU, are expected to hold a news conference at 12 p.m. in Berlin.
Merkel’s shift on refugees is the first policy fallout from Germany’s election. AfD won 12.6 percent of the vote on September 24, becoming the first far-right party to enter the Bundestag, or lower house, since the immediate aftermath of World War II.
That followed months of campaigning by the party against Merkel’s open-borders stance after more than 1 million refugees arrived in Germany in 2015 and 2016 during Europe’s refugee crisis.
Support for Merkel’s bloc declined by almost 9 percentage points in the election to 32.9 percent.
That leaves Germany’s biggest political grouping dependent on allying with two smaller parties after the Social Democrats fell to 20.5 percent and said they’re ending their coalition with Merkel. No date has been set for starting coalition talks.
Merkel, Europe’s longest-serving leader, took one of the biggest risks of her career in 2015 when she declined to close German borders to a record influx of asylum-seekers, including hundreds of thousands fleeing Syria’s war.
From images of refugees posing for selfies with the chancellor to blasts of criticism by President Donald J. Trump and a backlash that fueled the AfD party, the crisis came to define Merkel’s third term and hovered over last month’s election.
Merkel, 63, stood her ground during the campaign as anti-immigration protesters disrupted many of her rallies, saying she couldn’t think of anything she would have done differently during the refugee crisis. At one town-hall event, a Syrian refugee opened a question by saying, “I love you.”
Her stance clashed with that of EU leaders, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who responded by erecting a razor-wire fence and has become a leading voice against Muslims entering Europe.
Trump, during his presidential campaign last year, called Merkel’s refugee policy “insane”—and predicted she wouldn’t be reelected.
Image credits: Bloomberg