Germany’s would-be coalition parties have reached a compromise on the divisive question of family reunions for migrants, both sides involved in the negotiations said on Tuesday, clearing a major hurdle in talks on a ruling partnership.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD) are in talks to end a four-month political impasse and agree a deal within a week to rule Europe’s biggest economy together.
Migration, and in particular the question of family reunions, is one of the thorniest issues.
Under the agreement, up to 1,000 family members a month will be allowed to join people who are allowed to stay in Germany on less than full refugee status.
In 2016, the government decided to suspend family re-unifications for two years for migrants who get “subsidiary protection”. That applies to people who are not deemed individually persecuted but in whose home country there is war, torture or other inhumane treatment.
Syrians are the biggest group of asylum applicants in Germany. They are increasingly being granted subsidiary protection rather than refugee status, so they only get the right of residence for a year, although this can be extended.
The conservatives, especially Merkel’s Bavarian allies, did not want to give way to a more generous policy.
However, SPD party leader Martin Schulz said he had won a concession from the conservatives which meant that more than 1,000 individuals a month would be allowed to enter Germany in cases of special hardship.
That would be an addition to a blueprint agreed by the parties in exploratory talks which SPD delegates voted narrowly in favour of last week. Under pressure from the narrow result, the party’s leaders promised to improve that document.
“The SPD has held sway with a good agreement on family reunions,” Schulz said.
Conservatives confirmed that there was a deal but initially gave no details.
Other difficult areas coming up include employment and health policy.
Even if the parties hammer out a deal over the weekend or early next week, as planned, Merkel’s fourth term as chancellor is not guaranteed until the SPD’s roughly 440,000 members have approved it in a ballot. The outcome is unclear.
The party’s leaders are under pressure to win further concessions to reassure members who are deeply sceptical about joining Merkel for a re-run of the “grand coalition” that has ruled Germany since 2013.