BERLIN – 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.