German Chancellor Angela Merkel was battling to save her coalition on Monday after Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced his intention to resign over a controversial migration policy, according to German media reports.
Seehofer offered to quit as interior minister and as leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), during a marathon party meeting Sunday, but was later persuaded by CSU colleagues to meet with Merkel one more time and attempt to resolve the row, Reuters reported.
"In the interest of the country and the ability by the coalition to act, we want to try to find a way to unify on this central question: border control and refusal, only on this question," Seehofer said early on Monday. "And I hope that we can manage it. This is an act of goodwill on my part and another attempt to come to an agreement, otherwise this would have been it today."
Merkel was meeting with the CDU leadership Monday morning ahead of crunch talks between the two parties later in the day.
The CSU chief, who has repeatedly called for tougher policies on refugees, had given Merkel two weeks to reach an agreement with other European Union leaders that would allow German police to reject asylum seekers at the border who are already registered in another EU country. Under EU law, those people must be taken in and arrangements made on a case by case basis to send them back to the first country of entry.
Seehofer had threatened to implement that policy unilaterally if Merkel could not reach a satisfactory deal by Sunday. Instead, he reportedly offered to step down, a move that could provide temporary respite for Merkel but that may spell the end for the decades-old CDU/CSU alliance and for the coalition government.
Speaking to CNN Monday afternoon, Bavarian CSU interior minister Joachim Herrmann said that while his party's goals on migration were far from being reached, the CSU was not looking to break with the CDU.
"I don't want to speculate as to what the outcome will be today," Hermann said. "What's clear is that the CDU and CSU want to work together. We will need to find a common solution to the problem."
Speaking ahead of an EU summit last week, Merkel – a staunch advocate of EU-wide solutions -said migration could be a "make or break" issue for the union.
Europe's leaders emerged from talks with a bloc-wide agreement that it was best to deal with the issue collectively rather than unilaterally. But the wording was vague and nations will participate in relocation and resettlement programs only on a voluntary basis.
Merkel insisted the EU-wide deal reached on Friday was a victory, but Seehofer's party was not so sure. The CSU is fighting state elections in Bavaria in October and, under pressure from the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), is seeking to burnish its own anti-refugee credentials in an attempt to win back voters.
Merkel and Seehofer had long battled over the right approach to migration, but seemed to reach an agreement after federal elections last year when the chancellor agreed to try and limit the number of refugees arriving in Germany each year to 200,000 – a policy that Seehofer had repeatedly demanded and Merkel had consistently rejected.
The latest flare-up was triggered when Seehofer announced a 63-point "migration master plan" last month, which Merkel refused to endorse due to the proposal to reject asylum seekers already registered elsewhere. Merkel agrees that the current rules – known as the Dublin regulation – must be reformed, but insists that must be done at the European level.