BERLIN (AP) — Senior members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition sent conflicting signals on Sunday over a shelved initiative by the interior minister to give many Syrians restricted asylum, setting off a new round of government squabbling.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere appeared to surprise the coalition when he said Friday that many Syrians should get "subsidiary protection," which comes with only a one-year renewable residence permit and wouldn't allow them to bring relatives to Germany for two years. Amid criticism, he shelved the idea hours later.
Merkel's chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, made clear he wasn't informed that the initiative had been launched.
It remains unclear why the conservative de Maiziere's ministry made an apparent solo decision which angered members of Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel's center-left Social Democrats.
The minister's announcement came only a day after Merkel's coalition ended a damaging, weekslong argument over how to speed up processing of migrants with poor asylum prospects.
Altmaier, who was put in charge last month of coordinating refugee matters, called it "a discussion the day before yesterday ... that is now settled." He told Deutschlandfunk radio that nothing will be changed "unilaterally."
"Procedures for Syrians will continue to be handled as they have been so far," he said.
However, prominent conservatives stood by de Maiziere's idea — among them the leader of the Christian Social Union, the tough-talking Bavarian branch of Merkel's conservative bloc.
Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer told the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung that Germany should return to "examining the refugee status of every Syrian carefully" and checking whether they personally faced persecution.
Wolfgang Schaeuble, the influential finance minister, made clear he too backs de Maiziere. He told ARD television that there have to be limits to refugees bringing relatives to Germany.
"Our capacity to take in (people) is not unlimited; and because of that it is a necessary measure that we examine cases individually and for it to be clear in Syria that not everyone can now come to Germany," Schaeuble said.
Merkel herself hasn't yet commented.
Gabriel told ARD that the proposal would effectively slow down processing refugees.
The vice chancellor complained that, in recent weeks, coalition agreements have swiftly been followed by unannounced new proposals — creating the impression in Germany that "the government's left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing."
Germany saw 758,000 refugees and other migrants arrive between January and October and the government faces pressure to limit the influx. Syrians are the biggest single group currently arriving.