With Bavaria's elections only a few months away, State Premier Markus Söder of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) is advocating a tougher stance on asylum-seekers. The CSU, which has traditionally dominated Bavarian politics, fears large numbers of voters could turn their backs on the party and support the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) instead. That is why Söder now wants to speed up asylum applications, deter others from coming in the first place and swiftly deport rejected applicants.
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Söder's approach matches that of his predecessor Horst Seehofer, who now serves as Germany's interior minister and has proposed a similar plan for the whole country. It envisions establishing centers to house asylum-seekers after their arrival, process their asylum applications and deport them if their application has been rejected. Seehofer, however, has so far been unable to convince other German states to adopt this approach, including those governed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the sister party to Bavaria's CSU.
Regardless of how the plan has been received at the national level, Söder has vowed to adopt this tough stance on asylum-seekers in Bavaria. His plan envisions the following:
- Asylum centers will be established in each of Bavaria's seven administrative districts. Already existing institutions will be repurposed.
- Asylum-seekers will be housed in these centers, which will also carry out their application processes. Rejected applicants will be directly deported. Those who are granted asylum are only then distributed throughout Germany.
- Asylum-seekers shall, if legally possible and practicable, receive noncash benefits instead of money.
- Rejected applicants will be deported from Bavaria using chartered planes and a specially trained police force.
- The state will increase its capacity to incarcerate rejected asylum-seekers prior to deportation. Violent applicants must expect to be jailed and to lose their right to reside.
- A funding program will support deportees in their home countries. Financial and other support will also be provided to entice countries to take their citizens back.
- Asylum-seekers will be prohibited from working. Instead, they will be encouraged to take up charitable work.
Interior Ministry has no objections
Söder's plan is unique because it proposes putting the Bavarian state in charge of deportations — that process is currently coordinated and carried out by authorities on the national level. Bavarian leaders are seeking to independently charter aircraft to deport rejected asylum-seekers instead of waiting for the authorities in Berlin provide a plane, and Söder wants to use a specially trained state police force to do the job.
Germany's national police force has expressed opposition to the idea. Ernst Walter, who heads the country's DPolG police union, thinks Söder's proposals are merely an effort to "whip up support ahead of the elections," but it "suggests that the national police are not doing their job well." He says that law enforcement is not to blame for failed deportations, but rather that Bavaria, like other states, sometimes struggles to hand over rejected applicants to national police.
Kyrill-Alexander Schwarz, who teaches constitutional and administrative law at Würzburg University, believes that "going it alone without national authorities will not be possible." Only Germany's Office for Migration and Refugees has the power to order deportations, says Schwarz, and the national police force must carry them out. Although he admits that of course "national authorities could allow the Bavarian state to use national police officers."
Decision-makers in Berlin, meanwhile, have not objected to Söder's plan. A spokeswoman for Germany's Interior Ministry said on Monday that it would "in principle" welcome states carrying out deportations on their own accord.
No guarantee that deportations would succeed
But what about other states? Can Söder's plan serve as "a model for Germany," as he recently suggested? Holger Stahlknecht, who serves as Saxony-Anhalt's interior minister and is a member of the CDU, told Bavarian regional public broadcaster BR that Söder's plan "is a good idea." But he also warned that "nobody should be tempted into telling the German people these measures will solve all problems." Stahlknecht stressed that many deportations are aborted not because Germany lacks asylum-seeker reception centers, but because some countries reject taking their citizens back.
Herbert Reul, the CDU head of North Rhine-Westphalia's Interior Ministry, also favors Söder's proposals. On Wednesday, he told regional public broadcaster WDR that he, too, supports harmonizing and accelerating the asylum application process across Germany, even though he still finds the plans somewhat vague: "The goal is to make faster decisions: Who can stay, who will be thoroughly vetted, and who will certainly be rejected and deported?" Reul said North Rhine-Westphalia was also pursuing plans to establish special asylum centers.
Söder: Rejecting asylum-seekers at border a possibility
Bavaria's Greens parliamentary party leader Katharina Schulze, meanwhile, has dismissed Söder's plans as "inhumane," arguing that the reception centers would effectively be imprisoning asylum-seekers, thus making their integration into German society impossible. And Martin Hagen, a Bavarian state parliament candidate for the neoliberal Free Democrats, objected to banning asylum-seekers from working. "The CSU is denying the Bavarian economy much-needed workers, forcing asylum-seekers to live off state welfare," he said.
But Söder is certain that his proposals are inevitable, arguing that if other states don't follow suit, even more drastic measures will become necessary. "Rejecting asylum-seekers at the border is even more effective than creating [reception] centers," he says, adding that many Germans do not understand why "people without even the slightest chance of remaining in the country" are let into Germany and then go through a protracted asylum application process.
While Söder may hope his plan will win back disappointed CSU voters and weaken the AfD, polls suggest otherwise. Surveys indicate support for the CSU is stagnating, meaning it could lose its absolute parliamentary majority in October's state elections. The AfD, meanwhile, is projected to receive roughly 13 percent of the vote — on a par with Bavaria's Social Democrats and Greens.