As UN Migration Pact Adoption Date Approaches, More Countries Withdraw And Debate is Reignited in Germany

By James Carstensen | November 20, 2018 | 4:49pm EST
Jens Spahn, health minister in the coalition and a candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as leader of the CDU, has raised doubts about the U.N. migration pact. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Berlin ( – A week ahead of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) congress, a leading party member is renewing debate on whether Germany should sign a U.N. migration agreement, as more countries withdraw ahead of its formal adoption.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is scheduled to be approved at a December 11-12 meeting in Morocco, but a growing number of countries are continuing to distancing themselves from it, with Poland and Israel among the latest to do so.

Despite an earlier parliamentary debate leading to a broad endorsement of pact, the German government this week found itself again defending the agreement.

Internal opposition is led by Health Minister Jens Spahn, a critic of Merkel’s migration policies and contender to succeed her as party leader, following her decision to step down.

This week he repeated an earlier call to hold off on signing the pact, in order to discuss what he said were unresolved questions.

“If necessary, we will sign later,” Spahn said, suggesting the matter be discussed during the CDU party congress next week. “Otherwise, it will rapidly catch up with us politically.”

Spahn has the support of Bundestag deputy Peter Ramsauer, a member of the CDU’s Bavarian ally, the Christian Social Union (CSU). He told Die Welt on Monday he could not support any agreement that “opens the flow of refugees to Europe and to Germany.”

But Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert told the dpa news agency the government “stands behind this pact,” believing that a global approach to migration was needed, as separate national approaches would run into a dead end.

The debate comes at a time of transition and uncertainty in German politics. Following Merkel’s decision to step down as party leader – and to rule out running for the chancellorship again in 2021 – the head of the CSU, Horst Seehofer, is also leaving his party post.

Both will continue in their federal posts for now – Seehofer is interior minister in the coalition government – but the future direction of their two parties is unclear. (Next week’s CDU congress will select Merkel’s successor as party head.)

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) told ZDF television on Monday he was "surprised" by the renewed opposition to the migration pact, since lawmakers had already discussed the issue at length during a parliamentary debate on Nov. 8, and had endorsed the agreement.

“There was a very broad majority [supporting it],” Altmaier said. “We should not be hemmed in by populist forces," he added, alluding to pressure from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has made large political gains as a result of its anti-immigration stance.

Norbert Röttgen, a CDU lawmaker who heads the Bundestag's foreign affairs committee, suggested that even allowing a delay in signing the agreement could damage party and federal leadership.

He told Bild the compact “is an enormously important first step for the international community to control migration. This is our national interest.”

Migration has been a major topic in Europe since the 2015 crisis, when masses of asylum-seekers arrived from war-torn and poverty-stricken regions of the Middle East and Africa.

At the time Germany’s parliament debated the U.N. pact earlier this month, the United States, Australia, Hungary, Austria, and Croatia had already withdrawn.

Since then, the number of rejections has grown to eight, with Bulgaria voting against it last Monday and Poland and Israel voting against the pact on Tuesday.

Polish interior minister Mariusz Baszczak said in a radio interview the compact would “only intensify the crisis.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said his government was “committed to guarding our borders against illegal migrants” and would continue to do so.

Apart from the definite withdrawals, countries that have signaled they could follow suit include the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Italy, Estonia and Slovenia.

The compact contains 23 objectives aimed at making migration safer and more organized, such as through data sharing, coordinated border management, and establishment of “basic conditions” for migrants.

Although neither legally-binding nor overriding state sovereignty, it has nevertheless raised concerns that it places undue political burden on member states when it comes to migration.

When the U.S. withdrew a year ago, Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said the declaration “contains numerous provisions that are inconsistent with U.S. immigration and refugee policies and the Trump administration’s immigration principles.”

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