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German coalition talks breakthrough over migrants’ relatives issue

The centre-left Social Democrats are seeking to revisit compromises with the Union bloc on some issues already reached in preliminary talks in order to make them more palatable to their membership.

The prospective partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s next government have made a breakthrough in coalition talks over migrants’ right to bring close relatives to Germany.

Mrs Merkel’s conservative Union bloc and the centre-left Social Democrats hope to conclude coalition talks on Sunday. The Social Democrats are seeking to revisit compromises on some issues already reached in preliminary talks in order to make them more palatable to their membership.

Those include whether close relatives can join migrants with a status below full asylum. At present they cannot, but the current rule on this expires in mid-March. The two sides agreed that, from August, a maximum of 1,000 relatives should be let in per month, plus people who can be admitted under existing rules for hardship cases.

That is largely in line with a preliminary agreement that was considered a success for conservatives.

SPD leader Martin Schulz arrives for coalition talks (AP)

Interior minister Thomas de Maiziere, a member of Mrs Merkel’s party, called the agreement a “clever and balanced compromise” that will allow Germany to “fulfil humanitarian responsibilities for families in need”, without being overwhelmed with newcomers.

Volker Kauder, the head of Mrs Merkel’s Union bloc in parliament, said the conservatives’ plans on migration had prevailed and “we are satisfied with this solution”.

However, the head of the Social Democrats’ youth wing, Kevin Kuehnert, who has been leading a campaign within the party against forming a new coalition with Mrs Merkel and who has been pushing for more lax migrant regulations, told the RND media group he was not satisfied with the compromise.

Mrs Merkel addresses the media in Berlin (AP)

At the moment, he said, it is “completely unclear” how many hardship cases would be approved.

Once a coalition agreement is finalised, the Social Democrats’ full membership needs to approve it before the new government can be formed.

Fuelling sceptics’ concerns, Alexander Dobrindt, a top member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavaria-only sister party to Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, which takes a hard line on migration, called the agreement “a key element to further limiting immigration” because it did not redraw the existing regulations for hardship cases.

He said: “We must not overstretch the ability of our country to integrate” newcomers.

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