BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her most prominent domestic critic put on a public show of unity over the refugee crisis Tuesday, appearing together to stress their aim to limit the influx.
Horst Seehofer, Bavaria's governor and leader of the Bavarian branch of Merkel's conservative bloc, has criticized Merkel's welcoming approach to refugees for weeks, stridently demanding federal government action.
On Sunday, however, the conservatives thrashed out their demands in the enormous migration crisis facing Europe, patching up a damaging rift and switching instead to pressuring their coalition partners, the center-left Social Democrats.
Their deal doesn't refer to any limit on the number of refugees, as some conservatives have advocated, and Merkel still says closing borders isn't an answer. But it does advocate "transit zones" near the country's borders to weed out those with no realistic asylum claim, and curbing relatives from joining some asylum-seekers.
"We want to organize and steer the refugee flow, fight the causes of flight and so reduce the number of refugees," Merkel, speaking alongside Seehofer, said before a meeting of conservative lawmakers.
She stressed again the need for "European solidarity" on the migrant crisis.
"I want people in Germany to be able to say in a few years 'they did it well, and we were able to manage it,'" she said.
Seehofer said helping people in need and integrating new arrivals is only feasible "if there is also a reduction in the refugee figures."
Leaders of Germany's coalition government are meeting Thursday. Seehofer said "we should, perhaps even must, reach an agreement so the population sees ... the coalition partners are in a position to act."
So far, though, they are still arguing about the vague "transit zones."
Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel's Social Democrats, one of the parties in the German government say the "transit zone" plan is impractical because it would effectively detain masses of people. They also say the number of arrivals from Balkan countries deemed safe has dropped so low that it's barely relevant.
"I think it's relatively silly that we're arguing about a problem that affects 2.4 percent of incoming refugees," Gabriel said.