Germany should ally itself with Austria and Italy on migration and security policies, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Wednesday, a shift that could prove uncomfortable for Chancellor Angela Merkel. While it fits in with the idea that asylum seekers should not "shop" for the country that gives it the best welcome and benefits, Merkel has feared that copycat laws would follow across Europe, as one country after another would close its borders to avoid becoming the receptacle for all of the continent's undocumented migrants.
He says German border police should turn back all asylum seekers who lack ID and those already registered in another European Union country.
It is also highly unusual for bilateral meetings to take place between government members of differing ranks, such as a leader and an interior minister, and the much-publicised episode contributed to making Merkel look increasingly isolated.
At stake are Merkel's authority as well as the future of her alliance with the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) and Social Democrat coalition partners at a time when European divisions have come to a head over a ship carrying migrants that was refused entry to Italy.
Echoing Merkel's sentiments, French President Emmanuel Macron's office said that "international cooperation can not depend on fits of anger and a few words", according to a statement published by French public broadcaster RFI.
"What's important to me is that we make these decisions together in Europe, and not act unilaterally", she said at a Berlin press conference alongside Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, where she stressed the need to better secure the bloc's external borders.
The anti-immigration AfD said Seehofer must prevail.
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Merkel's recalcitrance has put her on a clear collision course with Seehofer, whose CSU, theoretically a sister party of Merkel's CDU in the large state of Bavaria, has grown increasingly rebellious.
But Merkel and Seehofer both signalled they wanted a quick end to the spat. Salvini, who also leads the far-right Lega party, caused a diplomatic and humanitarian crisis this week after he turned away a rescue boat carrying over 600 migrants ― leaving it in limbo until Spain agreed to accept the vessel.
Christian von Stetten, a senior CDU lawmaker, drew applause from party colleagues at a closed-door session of the parties' joint parliamentary group on Tuesday when he backed Mr. Seehofer by saying he would accept no watering down of the minister's plan.
Merkel's insistence on an EU-wide agreement has the backing for now of the third party in her coalition, the Social Democratic Party.
Merkel has said it would be illegal for Germany to take such a unilateral step and it would damage attempts to shape a comprehensive European Union migration policy.
Migrant numbers have declined steeply in the past two years, but Germany is still registering about 11,000 new asylum-seekers per month.