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Germany's Merkel cites migration progress to quell dispute

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel argued Friday that she has secured enough progress on migration issues to end a dispute with a conservative ally that has shaken the German government. The country's most influential business organizations backed her stance, urging Germany's ruling coalition to halt the bickering that they said could hurt the country's economy.

Merkel came away from a European Union summit with agreements for Greece and Spain to take back migrants previously registered in those countries who arrive at Germany's borders, as well as an overall agreement by the 28-bloc to help ease the pressure of migration into Europe.

It wasn't immediately clear, however, whether the results would satisfy Merkel's interior minister, Horst Seehofer, and his Bavaria-only Christian Social Union party after a three-week standoff. Merkel and Seehofer, who heads the CSU, have been at odds over his proposal to turn some migrants away at Germany's borders and his threat to push through that plan unilaterally.

Merkel has insisted on a European-wide solution to migration issues. The dispute has raised the possibility of an end to the decades-old conservative alliance between the CSU and Merkel's Christian Democratic Union if Seehofer goes ahead unilaterally, which could bring down her government.

Seehofer had given Merkel until this weekend to come up with negotiated results that are equally effective. Merkel told reporters in Brussels that she was coming home with a package that "if it is really all implemented, is more than equally effective. This is really substantial progress."

"I think that everything that could be achieved in this timeframe has been done," she said. While she did win bilateral deals with Greece and Spain, Merkel conceded that she didn't — at least for now — get a similar agreement for Italy, where many migrants and refugees from North Africa land, to take them back. She said that Italy has different priorities "and that has to be respected."

Merkel said she would consult with her coalition partners Friday night on the results and hold further talks Saturday. The CDU and CSU leaderships plan separate meetings Sunday to discuss the outcome of Merkel's negotiating efforts and plot their next steps.

The CSU's top federal lawmaker, Alexander Dobrindt, argued that the EU summit's conclusions would allow Germany to take national measures. But he also welcomed its agreements on better protections for the EU's external borders and the creation of refugee centers in third countries.

He said the CSU will now analyze the outcome but that as "a result of the debate in Germany, there is finally a stronger concentration at EU level on the issue of migration." In a joint statement, Germany's main business lobby groups took aim at Seehofer, saying "national unilateral actions do more harm than good" and questioning whether the German government has the "right priorities."

In Brussels, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz — himself the head of a right-wing government that has been pushing for tighter controls on migration — said if Germany instituted new measures at its border with Austria, Vienna would "inevitably" react.

Merkel has repeatedly pointed to the risk of a domino effect of uncoordinated measures that would hurt European unity if Seehofer went ahead with his unilateral plan. Two polls this week have suggested that the CSU's strategy may be backfiring with voters as well, with one Friday showing Merkel's popularity remaining high.

The German business organizations said there was a need for "European solutions that are sustainable and future-oriented." "These party political disputes damage the reputation of Germany," they said. "They weaken us on the European and international stage — and in an economically challenging situation."

They noted that Germany conducts most of its trade within the EU and that could be threatened by go-it-alone measures. "We appeal to the government to become equally aware of its responsibility and role for Germany in Europe and the world," they said. "What we need now is a stable and determined government that works constructively, solution-oriented, and in a sensible way with its European partners."

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