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Political Fight Centers On Whether German Borders Should Be Closed


Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, is in political trouble. Her political coalition is in danger of falling apart over immigration. A more conservative party in her coalition wants Germany to unilaterally exclude certain groups of migrants.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson joins us from Berlin. Hi there, Soraya.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning again, Steve.

INSKEEP: I guess we should remember that Merkel herself is conservative. But there's a more conservative party than hers that's part of this coalition. What is it exactly that they want?

NELSON: Yes. Those particular conservatives are in Bavaria. And what they're seeking is to basically stop migrants or asylum-seekers who already have fingerprints in the system or who have been otherwise barred from coming to Germany from entering the border. Right now they are allowed to come in and have their cases heard. And so they say they're going to do this whether or not the - whether the chancellor goes along with it or not. Part of the reason for this is because there is concern about a threat to this party from the far-right Alternative to Germany. They're gaining a lot of...

INSKEEP: Oh, even more conservative, even more rightist people are pushing them to go...

NELSON: Exactly. Yeah, these far-right people are - in fact will rob them of their absolute majority if surveys are to be believed. The other issue is that there have been some notable crimes committed by a few refugees, which of course are being extended to all refugees. You know, we don't want criminals in this country is the message. So it's creating a real crisis for Chancellor Merkel.

INSKEEP: I don't understand this fingerprint thing. So these are people who've already been in some other European country on their way to Germany. And the German idea, at least of the more conservative people, is they just ought to stay in that other country? Is that right?

NELSON: Exactly, except that they have to have permission from those countries to be able to be sent back there. And that's something that's lacking. And it's something that Merkel will have to provide in the next two weeks or her coalition partners in Bavaria say they will go ahead with unilateral border enforcement.

INSKEEP: Which could lead to any number of consequences. What is Merkel saying about all this as her governing coalition is at the edge of collapse?

NELSON: She's very concerned. She looked very grim today when she spoke. But she was also quite defensive and quite firm about the fact that this has to be a European solution. She hasn't mentioned this, but in fact very few migrants or asylum-seekers are actually coming into Germany this year. If we talk about 140,000 crossing into Bavaria back in October 2015 compared to 150 at one of the main crossings now, 150 a month, you know, it's the - things have already changed significantly. But what hasn't changed is that there isn't a cohesive European policy when it comes to immigration.

INSKEEP: So Merkel is holding her ground. What about the party that's threatening to blow up her coalition?

NELSON: They're holding theirs as well. It seems that at some point the interior minister or the chancellor is going to have to go. The interior minister says he has no choice. It's his responsibility. He calls it scandalous that people are being allowed into Germany who clearly don't belong here whether they've already applied for asylum in other EU countries or whether they've actually been given deportation orders from Germany.

INSKEEP: One other thing - President Trump here in the United States has weighed in on this on Twitter this morning and said it was a big mistake all over Europe in allowing, quote, "millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture." Is that what this is really about, fear of cultural change in Europe?

NELSON: That certainly is what the populists and far-right parties not only in Germany but elsewhere in Europe are saying. This is their mantra, if you will. And it's what a lot of Europeans are buying into. But I don't know that it's necessarily a majority position, and I guess we'll see what the Europeans come with - come away with at the summit in two weeks from now.

INSKEEP: So fear that people with different backgrounds or a different religion, Muslims, might not be able to fit into a democracy, essentially that said.

NELSON: That's exactly right.

INSKEEP: Soraya, thanks very much as always.

NELSON: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.