Update: Seehofer reportedly will stay on. I have some details in an update at the bottom of this post.

The Merkel-Seehofer feud erupted wide open today with a Personal Attack on German Chancellor Angela Merkel by CSU interior minister Horst Seehofer.

“I won’t let myself be sacked by a chancellor who I made chancellor in the first place,” he told the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung. He reportedly went on to describe his situation as “incomprehensible”, adding: “The person who I helped into the saddle is kicking me out.”

Eurointelligence Comments

Horst Seehofer's offer to resign as interior minister and CSU chairman is not a victory for Angela Merkel as some hasty commentators suggested last night. On the contrary. This is the political equivalent of a nuclear bomb threat that could produce massive collateral damage for both CSU and CDU if they maintain their union.

If Seehofer quits on a point of principle, on the single most important issue in German politics, his party may find it difficult simply to pick a successor as chairman and interior minister and to follow Angela Merkel's course. There are state elections in Bavaria in October, and the already-strong AfD has found the ideal subject to humiliate the CSU.

FAZ made the point that Seehofer is now in a stronger position because he has nothing to lose. He will be 69 years old on Wednesday. He is at the end of his political career. He wants to bow out of politics with dignity.

We noted an important editorial shift at Bild last night. The paper has been Merkel's staunchest supporter over the last 13 years, but is now turning against her. It writes that Germans were supporting Seehofer's policy, but they don't want a fight - a typically German contradiction. It writes, correctly in our view, that Merkel returned with a vacuous deal from Brussels. It appeared even that she lied about the facts - having promised bilateral agreements with 14 countries, a statement immediately disputed by three of those concerned. [I will return to that lie in a moment]

Bild concluded that the purpose of what it calls cheap trickery was to secure her power. It is embarrassing for Germany to be so humiliated, the paper concluded. We think this constitutes an important editorial shift by a paper with a highly developed sense of the nation's mood.

Markus Söder, the Bavarian prime minister and Seehofer's long-time rival, supports him on this issue. If Seehofer left, Söder would presumably want to take the CSU leadership himself. But Söder's position on immigration is even more hard-line than that of Seehofer.

A divorce between CDU and CSU would, however, not end Merkel's chancellorship, nor would it necessarily trigger new elections. Merkel still has the option of a coalition with the SPD and the Green Party. That constellation might be a temporary stop-gap, but would certainly support her immigration policies. The trouble is that such a coalition would push the CDU further to the left, thus widening the political space for a nationwide CSU.

Merkel's Lie

Merkel did not have agreement from Austria, Hungary, and Poland. She ended up apologizing to those countries, revising her statement to something on the order of they agreed to discuss the situation.

The lie was so blatant, the Bild called her on it.

Resignation Process

DW explains German government crisis: What happens if Horst Seehofer resigns?

How does resignation work?

Germany's Basic Law (constitution) doesn't make a distinction between voluntary resignation and dismissal for federal ministers, meaning that Seehofer must ask Merkel to be dismissed.

Should Seehofer ask to be dismissed, Merkel cannot make the call by herself. She would need to propose the move to German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who would then be the one to dismiss Seehofer from his interior minister post.

What could the CSU do if he leaves?

Should Seehofer decide to leave his post, his Bavarian party would then need to propose a new candidate from their ranks to be the next interior minister.

RECOMMENDED ARTICLES

What happens to Merkel's government?

Should the CSU decide to nominate a replacement for Seehofer, Merkel's coalition would continue to remain in power, although the chancellor would have to contend with even further strained ties between the conservative allies.

If the CSU no longer wants to stay in the coalition, there are several possible scenarios, none of which look particularly promising for Merkel:

If, however, the party no longer wants to stay in the governing coalition, they could also pull all of their ministers out of Merkel's cabinet, thereby ending the government's majority in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament.

What's Next?

The situation is fluid. What happens next is unknown.

If the CSU no longer wants to stay in the coalition, there are several possible scenarios, none of which look particularly promising for Merkel:

  1. Minority Government
  2. New Coalition
  3. Vote of No Confidence
  4. New Elections

I suspect a damaged CSU is likely to stay in the coalition. My next choice is new elections, followed by new coalition.

The problem for Merkel in a new coalition is the chancellorship itself is at stake and so are a cornucopia of tradeoff issues.

Merkel said she prefers new elections to a minority government, but she has been known to blatantly lie.

Regardless of what happens, the primary beneficiary of this mess is AfD.

Update

No sooner than I finished the above than my German reader friend emailed this SZ report (as translated): Seehofer announces agreement in the asylum dispute and wants to remain Minister of the Interior.

  • Horst Seehofer and Angela Merkel find in the Berlin CDU headquarters to an agreement in the asylum dispute. This proclaims Seehofer, who now wants to remain Minister of the Interior.
  • The compromise looks like this: A "new border regime" on the German-Austrian border is intended to curb illegal migration.
  • Whether Seehofer wants to stay CSU boss, he does not say at first. He had announced the resignation of both offices on Sunday, but then stated that he still wanted to wait for the meeting with Merkel.
  • After the meeting of the union tips the coalition committee is to meet with the SPD, presumably at 22 o'clock.

All Theater?

My German reader commented: "I told you it was all theater."

I strongly disagree.

One does not engage in theater when the "benefit" is known in advance to be negative.

I strongly suspect we will find the German president (a largely symbolic role except for such matters) pressured Merkel and Seehofer to work things out.

This compromise, whatever it entails, will benefit neither Merkel nor the CSU.

Rather, these gyrations will play straight into the hands of non-union parties, especially AfD.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock