World

Merkel aide downplays flap over minister's Syrian asylum gambit, says no change to procedures

  • FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2015 file picture German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, talks to the Chief of Staff Peter Altmaier  in Berlin.Peter Altmaier is downplaying a short-lived initiative by the interior minister Thomas de Maiziere to give many Syrians restricted asylum, insisting that the matter is settled and procedures remain unchanged. Altmaier, made clear in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio broadcast Sunday Nov. 8, 2015  that he hadn't been aware that the initiative had been launched.  (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber,file)

    FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2015 file picture German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, talks to the Chief of Staff Peter Altmaier in Berlin.Peter Altmaier is downplaying a short-lived initiative by the interior minister Thomas de Maiziere to give many Syrians restricted asylum, insisting that the matter is settled and procedures remain unchanged. Altmaier, made clear in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio broadcast Sunday Nov. 8, 2015 that he hadn't been aware that the initiative had been launched. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber,file)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2015 file picture German Interior minister  Thomas de Maiziere , left, and Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff  Peter Altmaier, talk in the German Bundestag in Berlin.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff is downplaying a short-lived initiative by the interior minister Thomas de Maiziere to give many Syrians restricted asylum, insisting that the matter is settled and procedures remain unchanged.  ( Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP,file)

    FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2015 file picture German Interior minister Thomas de Maiziere , left, and Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff Peter Altmaier, talk in the German Bundestag in Berlin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff is downplaying a short-lived initiative by the interior minister Thomas de Maiziere to give many Syrians restricted asylum, insisting that the matter is settled and procedures remain unchanged. ( Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP,file)  (The Associated Press)

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and the Governor of the German State of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, left, address the media during a statement about  their talks on the migrant influx   prior to a meeting of lawmakers  at the German federal parliament, Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and the Governor of the German State of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, left, address the media during a statement about their talks on the migrant influx prior to a meeting of lawmakers at the German federal parliament, Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)  (The Associated Press)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff downplayed a short-lived initiative by the country's interior minister to give many Syrians restricted asylum, insisting Sunday that procedures remain unchanged.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere appeared to surprise Merkel's governing coalition when he said Friday that many Syrians should get "subsidiary protection," which comes with only a one-year renewable residence permit and wouldn't allow them to bring relatives to Germany for two years. Amid criticism, he shelved the idea hours later.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has said the idea apparently was produced in the Interior Ministry without consultation. Merkel's chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, made clear in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio he wasn't informed that the initiative had been launched.

It remains unclear why the conservative de Maiziere's ministry made an apparent solo decision which angered members of Gabriel's center-left Social Democrats, but government leaders appear keen to avoid further political infighting.

The minister's announcement came only a day after Merkel's coalition ended a damaging, weekslong argument over how to speed up processing of migrants with poor asylum prospects.

Altmaier, who was put in charge last month of coordinating refugee matters, called it "a discussion the day before yesterday ... that is now settled." He said nothing will be changed "unilaterally."

"Procedures for Syrians will continue to be handled as they have been so far," he said.

Gabriel made similarly conciliatory comments Saturday, saying he considered the matter finished. However, a senior official from the Christian Social Union — the tough-talking Bavarian branch of Merkel's conservative bloc — backed de Maiziere's idea, suggesting there is potential for the issue to fester.

Germany saw 758,000 refugees and other migrants arrive between January and October and the government faces pressure to limit the influx. Syrians are the biggest single group currently arriving.