BERLIN, GERMANY - Chancellor Angela Merkel's most prominent domestic critic in the migrant crisis sent conciliatory signals Tuesday, welcoming her acknowledgement that an unabated influx would overburden Germany while making clear he will keep up the pressure to cut new arrivals.
Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer drew polite applause at a conference of Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union - a day after Merkel rallied her party behind her approach, winning a nine-minute standing ovation.
Seehofer leads the Christian Social Union, the CDU's Bavaria-only sister party, and has sniped for months at her welcoming approach. Last month, he lectured her onstage at his party's congress. On Tuesday, he stressed the value of unity.
Seehofer's CSU has called for a specific limit on the number of refugees Germany can take, which Merkel rejects as unfeasible. She stresses instead the importance of finding a diplomatic solution for the crisis with the rest of Europe and with Turkey.
On Monday, Merkel pledged to “appreciably reduce the number of refugees” and said Germany would be “overburdened” if refugees continued to arrive in such large numbers. While she didn't promise specific new action, that wording in a motion on refugee policy helped persuade CDU members to drop a demand for a specific refugee limit.
“These two clear messages are important,” Seehofer said, downplaying the conservative allies' differences.
“My experience tells me that people are only interested in whether we succeed in reducing appreciably the refugee numbers, and not just any old time but in a manageable time frame,” he said. “So my assessment is that the year 2016 won't be easier than the year 2015.”
Germany has seen about a million migrants arrive this year, with most setting foot in Bavaria first. The pace of arrivals has slowed after an autumn peak but Seehofer said some recent days still saw more than 5,000.
If that continued, “we would have even more refugees next year than this year,” he said.