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German Minister Offers To Step Down Over Merkel's Handling Of Migrants

Germany's Interior Minister Horst Seehofer at a Cabinet meeting last month in Berlin.
Adam Berry
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Germany's Interior Minister Horst Seehofer at a Cabinet meeting last month in Berlin.

Updated at 6:30 a.m. ET

Germany's interior minister has offered his resignation to Chancellor Angela Merkel over the government's policy on accepting migrants.

Horst Seehofer, a member of the conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union, has not only offered to resign from Merkel's Cabinet, but also from the leadership of the CSU.

His offer to step down follows a marathon meeting with senior members of his party who tried to persuade him to stay on, according to Deutsche Welle.

"In the interest of this country and the capacity of this government, which we want to maintain, we want to make an attempt to find an agreement on this central question of turning people away [at the German border]," Seehofer was quoted as saying by Deutsche Welle.

Despite tendering his resignation, the interior minister said he wanted to meet with Merkel on Monday before making a final decision.

She has insisted that the migration crisis — which has seen tens of thousands of North African and Middle Eastern asylum seekers enter European Union countries in recent years — is a matter for Europe as a whole to resolve.

Although the number of migrants has dropped sharply since the crisis began in 2015, the influx has nonetheless stoked anti-immigrant sentiments across Europe, particularly in countries such as Germany and Italy, where last month the issue helped propel a right-wing government to power.

The CSU is key to Merkel's coalition. If Seehofer's resignation is accepted, his party would have the option to forward a new candidate from its ranks to fill the interior ministry post or withdrawal from the government altogether. If the party leaves the coalition, Merkel's government would lose its majority in the Bundestag, forcing its collapse.

The Associated Press writes, "If Seehofer does step down, it is not immediately clear what effect the move would have on a three-week impasse between Merkel and her CSU partners, which has centered on his resolve to turn away some types of asylum-seekers at Germany's borders."

Last week, in a summit convened in an effort to resolve the migrant issue, the EU agreed to take a harder line on those seeking asylum from countries that the bloc does not consider war zones.

However, much of the deal carried the proviso that member states could participate on a "voluntary basis."

Even so, Merkel said additional agreements could give the agreement teeth. Those would include deals for Spain and Greece to take back migrants registered in those countries who are caught by police trying to enter Germany.

"The sum total of everything we have agreed upon has the same effect" as what Seehofer has demanded, Merkel said in an interview with ZDF television, as reported by AP. "That is my personal opinion. The CSU must naturally decide that for itself."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.