BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is in disarray due to a fight within her conservative bloc over migrant policy which risks toppling her coalition after her interior minister threatened to resign on Sunday.
Horst Seehofer, both interior minister and leader of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), deemed plans that Merkel brought back from an EU summit last week as too little to stop him introducing new national border controls.
Merkel rejects any unilateral moves, which she says would undermine the EU’s Schengen open border system.
The coalition parties, comprising Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), the CSU and Social Democrats (SPD), are holding a series of meetings on Monday to decide what action to take.
Following are the main options Merkel has:
A real possibility is a break up of the 70-year alliance between the CSU and Merkel’s CDU. A split would rob Merkel of her majority in the Bundestag lower house.
Only once before has the cooperation been at risk - in 1976 when Bavarian leader Franz Josef Strauss thought the CSU would fare better in elections if it were free of the CDU. That split lasted for just a few days.
Yes, Merkel could remain chancellor and rule via a minority government, but it would highlight her weakness and be a first for stability-loving Germans.
Given that the CDU and SPD without the CSU would be short of only two seats in parliament, she could hope for support for individual policies from the Greens, liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and possibly even the CSU in some cases.
She could also call a vote of no confidence. This may strengthen her if she won support from non-conservatives.
Otherwise, a new election is possible. Polls indicate the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), would be among the biggest winners, an unpalatable outcome for Merkel and all other parties.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier would probably step in to try to smooth things over and find the least-bad option.
The most important factor for her survival is probably how long her own CDU lawmakers stand by her, and for now they are.
There are strong arguments against the two most obvious candidates taking over. Her protege Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer may be too tarnished by her association with Merkel.
Jens Spahn, an arch critic of Merkel’s migrant policy, may be unpalatable to many in the CDU, especially after making some controversial comments on poverty and being photographed with the new, outspoken U.S. ambassador, a defender of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Some experts have suggested that veteran conservative and former finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble could step in as a caretaker leader.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff