Horst Seehofer in Berlin
Horst Seehofer in Berlin

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has presented his long-awaited asylum "master plan." But he did not include the last-minute compromises made with coalition partners last week, which averted a government crisis.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer finally got to present his migration "master plan" to the press on Tuesday, a month after it was blocked at the last minute by Chancellor Angela Merkel, precipitating a crisis in the German government that almost cost them both their jobs.

Seehofer also hinted at the delay in publication by pointing out that the delayed release of his plans came on his 69th birthday, noting that this coincided with the return of 69 people to Afghanistan from Germany, and quipping, "that was not on my order."




The minister does not appear to have been out to calm the waters, calling reporters to a press conference in the Interior Ministry to present a plan that did not include the 11th-hour compromises made by the government last week, which averted his resignation.

Instead, Seehofer, who is also head of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), emphasized that "this isn't a master plan of the coalition, but a master plan of this house." He was referring to the Interior Ministry, but could also be presenting a plan by his party.

Seehofer had actually agreed to some compromises with Merkel last week

The document published on Tuesday, he said, had been finalized on July 4, which meant that it did not include the compromises made last week with Merkel and with the coalition's junior partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD). He also admitted that it was not yet clear which measures contained in the plan the center-left would agree to.

An old new plan

Perhaps most provocatively, Seehofer's plan still contained the term "transit centers," which the SPD had vetoed in favor of "transit procedures," and which has already been ditched by the government he represents. Still, the interior minister refused to admit it was a provocation – at least not in so many words. "It is not a provocation, but if you like, you could also see it that way," he told the Bild newspaper elliptically.

In its introduction, the plan also demands that "asylum seekers work actively on their asylum procedures. We want to stop people disappearing during or after their asylum procedures, or hide their real identities."

Seehofer's "master plan," now effectively published after it has gone out of date, included so-called transit centers situated at the German-Austrian border, in which asylum seekers would be held if another country was found to be responsible for their applications.

Instead, the German government, apparently worried by the prospect of keeping asylum-seekers in what might look like concentration camps, agreed last week to an SPD amendment: implementing fast-tracked transit procedures in existing border police stations, which would ensure that asylum seekers are returned to other countries within 48 hours.

This will require bilateral agreements with other European Union countries, especially Austria, Italy, and Greece. Seehofer said that such an agreement had already been made with Austria.

Other measures in the master plan (most of which are backed by Merkel) include:

- Tougher sanctions against asylum-seekers, especially those who return to their countries of origin while their cases are still being decided, as well as those who do not attend integration courses.

- More "anchor centers": Seehofer has long since called for these "one-stop" centers, where asylum-seekers will be registered, have their cases considered, and be deported from all as quickly as possible. However, these would have to be administered at state level, and Germany's state governments have been reluctant to implement the plans so far.

- More EU border protection: Apart from reinforcing the EU's border security force FRONTEX, as agreed at a Brussels summit at the end of June, Seehofer also wants to install "disembarkation platforms" in North Africa. The problem here is that no North African country has yet agreed to allow such a platform to be built. Merkel and Seehofer are both hoping that agreements similar to the one struck with Turkey two years ago can be reached.

The circus continues

Seehofer's decision drew irritation from his Social Democrat coalition partners, whose deputy chairman Ralf Stegner told the DPA news agency, "The SPD has no interest at all in another performance in the CSU summer theater. Our common master plan is and remains the coalition contract – and Mr. Seehofer has enough to work on there."

The interior minister's plan was also criticized by the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, whose German representative Dominik Bartsch released a statement on Tuesday afternoon criticizing the "worrying basic tone" of Seehofer's plan.

"The plan concentrates only on toughening the administration in procedural questions and neglects the most important thing: the people," he said. "The decisive question has to be how refugees can be effectively protected, not how they can be processed as fast as possible and then push the responsibility for them onto others."

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party also showed nothing but contempt for Seehofer's plan on Tuesday, with leader Alice Weidel condemning what she called "coalition ping-pong" that had led to a series of measures that did not amount to a real sea-change in Germany's migration policy.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) tweeted on Tuesday that the total number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean Sea had reached 1,422 this year.

Screenshot of IOM tweet

Author: Ben Knight

First published: July 10, 2018

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