Donald Trump has launched an unprecedented attack on Angela Merkel’s government, tweeting that “the people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition”.
While the US president has previously been openly critical of Germany’s export surplus and defence spending, he has refrained from openly criticising the country’s migration policy since taking office in 2017.
In November 2014, during the US presidential campaign, Trump called Merkel’s decision to keep open the country’s borders to Syrian refugees in the summer of 2015 “insane”.
In his latest tweet, Trump said “crime in Germany is way up”. In May, Germany’s interior ministry recorded the lowest crime levels since 1992.
“Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!” he added.
In a second tweet, Trump noted:
Trump sent his tweet about Germany at a time when his administration is coming under increasing pressure from Republicans and Democrats over its policy of separating children from parents detained at the Mexican border.
The president has tried to deflect blame for the policy, which has caused worldwide outrage, on to the Democrats. He has repeatedly made a false claim that the family separations arose from legislation passed by Democrats. There is no such legislation and the separations followed the administration’s announcement of a “zero tolerance” policy towards migrants.
Among those who have voiced opposition to the policy are the former first lady, Laura Bush, and the evangelical preacher, Franklin Graham. Even Trump’s wife, Melania, said she “hates to see children separated from their families” and called for a country that was law abiding but also one “that governs with heart”.
The US president’s tweets come just as Merkel has managed to buy time in a tense standoff with her interior minister over new immigration curbs. She faces a two-week deadline to find a European solution or risk the collapse of her governing coalition.
Over the weekend, Trump spoke for the first time with the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, one of Merkel’s key antagonists in the European Union and a vocal critic of the proposal to distribute refugee across EU member states according to a quota system. In a phone call on Saturday, Trump congratulated Orbán on his reelection in April. According to a statement by the White House, the two leaders “agreed on the need for strong national borders”.
On Monday, Horst Seehofer, the interior minister from the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s CDU, reiterated his desire for Germany to start turning away at the border any migrants who had already registered in another EU member state.
But Seehofer conceded that no such curbs would come into effect until after the European council summit on 28 and 29 June, with the two parties due to reconvene on 1 July.
Merkel said that such migrants could only be turned away at the border with the agreement of the relevant EU states.
Speaking in Berlin on Monday afternoon, Merkel said: “CDU and CSU have joint goal of better regulating migration into our country and considerably reduce the number of people who arrive here, so that a situation like the one we had in the year 2015 cannot and won’t happen again.”
But the chancellor insisted that Germany should not make unilateral changes to its migration policy and indicated she would seek bilateral agreements with Italy, Greece and Austria over the coming fortnight.
“In the CDU, we are of the conviction that German and European interests have to be considered together,” Merkel said.
The Bavarian party argues that the country will remain a “pull factor” for those seeking a better life in Europe unless the government sends a clear signal to discourage migrants from applying for asylum in Germany. “On the way to a European solution, we need national measures,” said CSU delegate Stefan Mayer.
Merkel’s supporters say the CSU’s hardline stance has less to do with the current situation on Germany’s borders than October’s state election in Bavaria, where the party faces losing votes to a far-right AfD and could fall short of an absolute majority.
Seehofer’s critics argue that the urgent rhetoric of his 63-point migration “master plan” does not take into account the fact that Merkel’s government has already gradually tightened the criteria and conditions for asylum applicants in Germany since the height of the 2015 refugee crisis and that the numbers of applications have dropped as a result.
Merkel confirmed that Germany had struck deals with Italy and Greece so that migrants who have been returned to the country via which they first entered the EU, under the Dublin Regulation, will be barred from re-entering Germany.
Seehofer, however, insisted that Germany was still not completely “in control of the migration issue” and said it was a “scandal” that migrants who had been issued with an entry ban to Germany could nonetheless reapply for asylum.
In her press conference, Merkel warned that a decision to turn away migrants at German borders could have “negative domino effects that would also harm Germany”. Some migration observers fear Germany “going alone” with migrant curbs could inspire other states in Europe to simply not register asylum seekers and wave them through to Germany instead.