Germany’s Angela Merkel Agrees to Limits on Accepting Refugees

Credit...Omer Messinger/European Pressphoto Agency

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to limit the number of asylum seekers allowed to enter Germany each year to 200,000, a concession to her Bavarian partners as she tries to form a government after losing seats to the far right in elections last month.

Ms. Merkel angered many German voters with her willingness in 2015 to let in anyone who could reach the country, which resulted in the arrival of more than a million people. Some voters responded by propelling the far-right party Alternative for Germany — known by its German initials, AfD — into Parliament last month, with support coming from people who had previously stayed home and from Ms. Merkel’s conservative bloc, especially its Bavarian branch, the Christian Social Union.

After hours of talks on Sunday that dragged into the night, Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union also agreed to provisions allowing the 200,000 limit to fluctuate depending on circumstances.

Horst Seehofer, leader of the Bavarian party, had been demanding for months that a limit be set on the number of people allowed to apply for asylum in Germany. The chancellor refused to yield to his demands, until he made the issue a condition for helping her form a new coalition.

“We reached a compromise that I consider to be a very good basis to begin discussions with the Free Democrats and the Greens,” Ms. Merkel told reporters in Berlin on Monday.

“Germany needs a stable government and the prerequisite for this was a common negotiating position,” she said.

With the sticky issue of how to handle the future flow of immigrants having been resolved among her own ranks, talks on forming a new government are scheduled to begin next week with the free-market Free Democrats, which welcomed the agreement, and the environmentalist Greens, which had opposed such limits.

The Christian Democratic Union emerged from the elections last month as the strongest party, with 26.8 percent support. It has traditionally governed in a parliamentary caucus with the Christian Social Democrats, which earned 6.2 percent of the vote, giving the bloc the right to form a government.

But with the AfD entering the German Parliament as the third-strongest party, Ms. Merkel must negotiate with two smaller parties if she hopes to form a coalition government. The chancellor said the conservatives would speak with the potential partners individually starting Oct. 18.

Although the conservatives and the Greens govern together in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, their political platforms are often at odds and they have never formed a government together at the national level.

The initial reaction from the Greens indicated that reaching an agreement on limiting the number of refugees could prove difficult.

“When you throw together asylum seekers, refugee contingents, resettlement programs and family members joining refugees all in one pot, and then set a limit of 200,000, one group will be thrown under the bus,” said Simone Peter, a co-leader of the Greens. “I would like to see how that can go along with humanitarian immigration.”

The numbers seeking refuge in Germany have fallen drastically during the last year, after Balkan countries began refusing people the right to cross illegally and after Europe reached a deal with Turkey to stem the flow. Fewer than 124,000 people applied for asylum in Germany in the first eight months of this year.

As part of their agreement, the conservatives also proposed legislation to allow for immigration of workers, in consultation with industries that have jobs to fill. More than 773,000 jobs were available last month, according to figures released by Germany’s labor office.

Further measures would include establishing more centers to process and assess arrivals’ applications. Those who are rejected would be returned to their home countries — an effort which would be sped up.

Among those destinations are Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, which, until now, have been considered too dangerous for deportations. Cooperation agreements with these and other countries that serve as transit points for many of the migrants coming from the Middle East or Africa, similar to the European Union’s deal with Turkey, are to be drawn up to further help limit the number of new arrivals.

The proposal also foresees continuing to refuse those who have been only granted temporary asylum from bringing members of their immediate families to join them.

German law allows all those recognized as refugees to bring in members of their immediate family. But a change introduced in 2016, to cope with the large numbers of people fleeing the conflict in Syria, granted those who could not prove they had suffered political persecution only temporary asylum. Although it can be renewed, the temporary protection does not include the right to invite relatives to Germany.

The AfD campaigned on more restrictive refugee policies, including rescinding the right of those granted asylum to bring relatives to join them, on the grounds that so many arrivals would strain Germany’s social system.