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1ST LEAD Refugee family reunions become key issue in Merkel government talks By Andrew McCathie, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Berlin (dpa) - The demand by the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) to allow refugees to bring family members to settle in Germany has emerged as a critical issue in Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s battle to forge a new government.

A key leader of Merkel‘s conservative bloc on Tuesday rejected the call by the SPD for family reunions to be considered as part of possible exploratory talks to a build a new "grand coalition" government.

"That would lead to such a massive increase in immigration that Germany‘s ability to facilitate integration would be totally overwhelmed," said Horst Seehofer, who heads the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian-based allies of Merkel‘s Christian Democrats (CDU).

Seehofer was speaking ahead of an SPD party congress opening on Thursday, which is set to consider a motion from the party leadership calling for talks with Merkel on extending the coalition that has ruled Europe‘s biggest economy for the last four years.

More than 1 million refugees, largely fleeing wars in the Middle East and Africa, have arrived in Germany since September 2015, when Merkel opened the nation‘s borders to those stranded in Hungary to avoid a humanitarian disaster. The numbers entering have declined sharply this year.

Bavaria is also facing an election year, with the CSU worried about its sharp slump in support in the September national election in the wake of gains made by the anti-foreigner Alternative for Germany (AfD).

However, Seehofer‘s comments are likely to add to tensions in the SPD ahead of the party conference with large numbers of the party‘s rank and file rejecting a rerun of the current Merkel-led coalition after the SPD suffered its worst election result since 1949.

Instead, they have argued that the party should return to the opposition benches so as to regroup and plot a new political course.

But the failure of talks to form a three-way coalition under Merkel including the environmental Greens and pro-business Free Democrats forced the SPD leadership to back-pedal and agree to talks with the CDU-CSU.

The SPD is opposed to a CDU-CSU plan to extend a ban on family reunions for some asylum seekers. "Family reunions and families living together lead to good integration," the SPD said this week. "That is why we are against extending the suspension of family reunions."


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