BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel is under intense pressure to get her EU partners this week to agree migrant policies to ease the burden on Germany and prevent her Bavarian conservative allies from introducing new national border controls.
Such a unilateral move, which would mark a reversal of Merkel’s open-door migrant policy and undermine the EU’s Schengen open border system, would be an affront to the chancellor and threaten her three-month old coalition.
On Sunday and Monday, the coalition parties - Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) - meet to decide what action to take.
Merkel may get an EU deal or, more likely, bilateral deals which satisfy the CSU and avert an immediate coalition crisis, but even so, the deep dispute has weakened Merkel considerably.
If it is not enough for the CSU, the party has said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, also CSU leader, will defy Merkel and introduce the new unilateral controls from next week.
Then, Merkel would almost certainly be forced to fire him. That in turn could lead to a break-up of the 70-year alliance between the CSU and Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU). This would rob Merkel of her parliamentary majority.
She could remain chancellor and rule via a minority government. A CDU-SPD government could hope for support for individual policies from the Greens, liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and possibly even the CSU in some cases.
A new election is a possible but given the strength of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), most experts think the bigger parties would rather avoid that.
In particular, it is not in the SPD’s interests to have an election; it needs time to regroup after a disastrous performance in the Sept vote, so it looks most likely to stick with Merkel.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier would probably step in to try to smooth things over and find the least-bad option but the bottom line is that Merkel would be dramatically weakened.
The most important factor for her survival is probably how long her own CDU lawmakers stand by her, especially as many support the CSU’s stance but are reluctant to topple Merkel.
There are strong arguments against the two most obvious candidates taking over. Her protege Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer may be too tarnished by her association with Merkel.
Jens Spahn, an arch critic of Merkel’s migrant policy may be unpalatable to many in the CDU, especially after making some controversial comments on poverty and being photographed with the new, outspoken U.S. ambassador, a defender of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Some experts have suggested that veteran conservative and former finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble could step in as a caretaker leader.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers, Editing by William Maclean