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Bavaria’s prime minster goes to Moscow while Merkel’s popularity dives

February 02, 21:31 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is seen on a video screen during the speech of Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer during the Christian Democratic, CDU, party convention in Karlsruhe, Germany, December 15, 2015

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is seen on a video screen during the speech of Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer during the Christian Democratic, CDU, party convention in Karlsruhe, Germany, December 15, 2015

© Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP

MOSCOW, February 2. /TASS/. Bavaria’s Prime Minister Horst Seehofer, the leader of the Christian-Social Union (affiliated with the ruling bloc) is due to visit Moscow on Wednesday, February 3. A meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin is on the agenda. This is going to be a land-mark event in Russian-German relations. Although Seehofer is seen rather as a regional-level politician, he is the leader of the Christian Social Union. It is not accidental that his scheduled visit has drawn very negative comments from many German politicians and the media. Seehofer’s partners have warned him against "solidarity with the Kremlin," which might be directed against the migration policies of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Some Russian experts believe that Germany is getting ready for a replacement of its leader. With this in mind it is exploring the grounds for mending relations with Russia.

As he announced the forthcoming visit last December, Seehofer said, "We have enough themes for discussion: refugees, the migration problem and security in many regions around the world. And naturally… sanctions. The question should be asked if we wish to keep the sanctions in place indefinitely. Or if time is ripe for discussing that. It is impossible to do away with the hotbeds of crisis all over Europe without Russia," Seehofer said.

The migration policies of Angela Merkel, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union, have been under the fire of criticism from her close associates in the ruling coalition. Seehofer became the main opponent of that policy, because his land, Bavaria, had to accommodate the largest share of the migrants’ influx.

Merkel’s rating has been in a steep dive since last September. Whereas just recently the possibility Merkel might participate in parliamentary elections in two years from now and, in case of success, remain federal chancellor for a fourth term was number one theme for discussion in German political quarters, these days the chances of her early resignation before the elections top the agenda.

Seehofer’s anti-Merkel statements enjoy great support from German society, the leading research fellow at the German Studies Centre of the Institute of Europe under the Russian Academy of Sciences, Aleksandr Kamkin, told Radio Sputnik. "Of all of Germany’s political heavyweights Seehofer is possibly the most consistent and influential critic of Merkel’s ‘open door’ policy towards migrants," he said. "At the same time a split in the ruling coalition of CDU and CSU is not on the agenda. What one can say with certainty is this: an alliance of opponents to Merkel’s policies is staking shape."

Seehofer’s visit to Moscow will certainly have political significance, the head of the European political studies section at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ institute of the world economy and international relations IMEMO, Nadezhda Arbatova, told TASS. "That anger over Merkel’s migration policies would be getting stronger had been clear from the outset. Resistance to that policy has been mounting not only among the population of the eastern lands and Bavaria, but also within the CDU/CSU, among Merkel’s close associates. A group of 50 parliament members from the CDU/CSU have addressed Merkel with a letter demanding tighter migration policies. Seehofer said in very harsh terms the government should restore border relations required by the law. At the same time Merkel’s positions inside the government and her public opinion ratings remain strong enough, although the popularity index has been down from 67% to 49%. Seehofer’s own popularity stands at 6%. For this reason all speculations about Merkel’s forthcoming resignation look premature for now. However strong the criticism she is faced with, Merkel still holds the firmest in Germany’s political establishment."

Arbatova believes that "Seehofer’s criticism of Merkel’s migration policies, however reasonable it may be, will not persuade the federal chancellor to change her attitude to Russia." All solutions of disputes between Brussels and Moscow will remain pegged to the termination of the conflict in Ukraine first and foremost, she believes.

"The criticism against Merkel over her migration policies and sanctions is a clear sign a likely substitute is being looked for," Professor Andrey Manoilo, of the political sciences department at the Moscow State University, has told TASS. "As a politician Merkel has exhausted her opportunities to influence the situation. Bavaria has been Merkel’s harsh critic for the past year. I believe that the share of the German elite which is certain Merkel should be replaced has been using Bavaria for the purpose of fermenting this process. Seehofer’s visit to Moscow will be devoted to not just current issues, such as migration and sanctions, but also a discussion of the future architecture of Russian-German relations after Merkel. Most likely the CDU/CSU alliance will not press for Merkel’s candidature and is already planning some reshuffle."

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