BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s interior minister drew fire from across the political spectrum on Sunday after accusing the European Union of taking a patronising stance towards eastern EU members about migration.
The remarks by Horst Seehofer, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CSU Bavarian allies, put him at odds with Merkel and her centre-left Social Democratic coalition partners.
His comments, reported by the newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday, came days after he sparked a public outcry by saying Islam did not belong to Germany.
Merkel had already rebuffed Seehofer last week, saying that Germany’s 4 million Muslims belonged to the country, as did their religion.
Seehofer, a former Bavarian premier, repeatedly criticised Merkel for her handling of the 2015 migration crisis. He has ratcheted up his rhetoric in recent days, keen to help his party win back voters who defected in large numbers to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the Sept. 24 national election.
Seehofer is taking a more hardline stance on migration, security and the EU as his party prepares for a bruising fight in October state elections in Bavaria.
But members of his own conservatives and the centre-left Social Democrats, junior partners in Merkel’s “grand coalition,” accused Seehofer and others of sowing unrest with the new government just days after it was sworn in.
Bernd Althusmann, who heads conservatives in the northern state of Lower Saxony, urged the government to get to work instead of focussing on tensions among the coalition partners.
“We’re not going to increase trust in the ability of this difficult coalition to govern through fights and publicity stunts, but rather through earnestness and energy,” he told Die Welt.
SPD deputy leader Ralf Stegner told Die Welt his party would not allow the coalition to “shift to the right.”
Johannes Kahrs, a member of parliament and spokesman for the SPD’s conservative wing, accused Seehofer of using his new ministerial post to carry out a Bavarian state campaign.
Seehofer criticised the EU for its inability to control its external borders and for what he called a “moralising” tone towards eastern European states who have refused to take in asylum seekers under an EU-wide quota system.
Such an attitude was “counter-productive,” Seehofer said, urging the EU to stop making decisions “over the heads” of member states.
“The EU commission is often patronising,” he told the newspaper. “We need to put more energy into dialogue on the distribution of refugees. If we keep negotiating patiently, a majority of countries will support (it).”
Other countries could contribute in other ways, perhaps by sending more personnel to the EU borders, or by contributing more for joint border patrols, he said.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal, editing by Larry King