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Debate Over Migrant Crisis Threatens To Topple Germany's Government

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Germany is facing a major political crisis over immigration. It threatens to topple the government and potentially end the political career of Chancellor Angela Merkel. A regional party in her ruling coalition is demanding tighter rules for migrants entering the country, and that party vows to act unilaterally if the chancellor refuses. Merkel has two weeks to reach a deal. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Berlin that may just delay the inevitable.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: This scene three years ago of asylum-seekers thronging Munich's main train station is what the conservative Bavarian party allied with Chancellor Angela Merkel says must never be repeated. More than a million migrants crossed the Austrian border into Germany through Bavaria since 2015. Although that flow has slowed to a trickle, the migrants' impact on German society is a matter of constant debate, including by President Donald Trump, who tweeted inaccurately about it earlier today. The Bavarian party wants to tighten rules governing the entry into Germany of migrants who are first registered in another EU country and those rejected for asylum. Germany's interior minister and a senior leader of the Bavarian CSU party is Horst Seehofer.

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HORST SEEHOFER: This is scandalous. (Speaking German).

NELSON: He told reporters the situation is scandalous. Seehofer asked, what's the point of an order barring someone's entry into Germany if that person learns there are no consequences?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEEHOFER: (Speaking German).

NELSON: The interior minister and his party, which is facing a major challenge from far-right populists in upcoming regional elections, say they will unilaterally prevent migrants from crossing Bavaria's international borders if Berlin doesn't act. A last-minute reprieve gives Merkel until July 1 to convince fellow European leaders to come up with a comprehensive policy to seal Europe's borders to unbridled migration. If she fails, the CSU vows to break its decades-old alliance with the chancellor's Christian Democrats, which would likely lead to new elections. That would benefit Germany's far right, just like the immigration issue has in at least a dozen other European countries.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking German).

NELSON: At her own news conference, Merkel said she agrees the asylum process needs to be streamlined. But she was also adamant the only way to do so was through a joint EU policy and individual deals with countries where migrants first go.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MERKEL: (Speaking German).

NELSON: She said it's vital to know what will happen to any migrants barred from entering Germany so they don't end up back here. Merkel has two weeks to negotiate a new arrangement. Otherwise, many political analysts here predict either the chancellor or her interior minister will have to resign. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.