No let up for Merkel on refugees as Bavaria demands quick action

Migrants stay in a queue after arriving at the Austrian-German border in Wegscheid near Passau, Germany, October 27, 2015. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

BERLIN (Reuters) - Angela Merkel's conservative allies in Bavaria increased pressure on the German chancellor over her open-door refugee policy at the weekend, saying she has until the end of the year to have European deals in place to ease the crisis. Merkel faces splits in her conservative bloc and coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD), as well as opposition from other EU states, over her insistence that Germany can cope with 1 million migrants this year and that Europe must agree quotas for them. With polls showing a drop in her popularity, Merkel is expected to face a backlash at her Christian Democrat (CDU) party conference on Dec. 14-15, although she is still widely expected to stand for a fourth term in 2017 federal elections. Horst Seehofer, the combative head of the conservative party in Bavaria, where most migrants fleeing war and conflict in the Middle East via Balkan countries arrive, set Merkel a deadline. Speaking to conservatives in eastern Germany on Saturday, he struck a softer tone than usual and backed Merkel's efforts to agree on protection for the EU's external borders, distribute refugees within the EU and fight the causes of flight. But it must happen this year, he said. "If it doesn't all happen on time or if it isn't effective enough, we must place value on creating law and order in Germany and Europe," he said, adding that Germany would have to think about sending a signal that the country had reached its limit. Seehofer wants caps for refugees and has openly criticized Merkel's welcoming policy but has as yet not followed through on any threats such as sending refugees back to other countries. In a podcast, Merkel said that, on an international level, "we hope that step by step, everything will come into ordered channels". She ruled out using the army to help with security or border control. Some lawmakers also criticized the authorities for failing to sufficiently speed up the processing of asylum requests. An Emnid poll showed support for Merkel's conservative bloc down 1 point at 37 percent, with her Social Democrat coalition partners unchanged at 25 percent and the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has made gains in the past couple of months, also stable at 8 percent. Peter Altmaier, head of the chancellor's office and refugee crisis co-ordinator, told rbb radio that a much-delayed law on steps to tackle the situation would go to parliament "in the coming weeks". However, the parties in Merkel's right-left coalition are still at odds on some issues, such as how hard it should be for families of refugees to come to Germany. (Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke in Zeulenroda; Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Digby Lidstone)