Berlin - Chancellor Angela Merkel has won some breathing space after a deal with the fiercest domestic critics of her open-door policy to refugees, but the respite could prove temporary given the record influx to Germany.
After weeks of infighting within Merkel's coalition over the surge in newcomers, the German leader and two other party chiefs stood side-by-side late Thursday to announce an agreement to speed up the repatriation of rejected asylum seekers.
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They also agreed to set up three to five reception centres nationwide for migrants deemed to have little chance of winning asylum.
"We have reached these agreements in the spirit that we will manage this," said Merkel, flanked by Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of the centre-left Social Democrats and Horst Seehofer of the CSU, the conservative Bavarian sister party of Merkel's CDU.
For weeks, Seehofer has been sniping at Merkel, even threatening her with unspecified consequences if she failed to limit the number of people arriving in Germany.
His southeastern region is the gateway for most migrants seeking to enter Germany, and Seehofer has repeatedly complained that local authorities are overwhelmed.
And Gabriel, who has announced his intention to challenge Merkel for the top job in 2017, had hit out at the backbiting among the conservatives.
Peace appeared to have been restored with the agreement.
Seehofer called the deal "very, very good", and said Friday his relationship with Merkel has been "cemented again".
'Stay in Germany'
However, observers and opposition parties swiftly questioned an agreement which they say is tough to implement given the sheer numbers of migrants seeking to reach Germany.
Some 758,000 have already arrived so far this year, with around one million people expected to reach Germany by the end of 2015.
Among those already counted are many migrants from the Balkans, including 67,000 from Albania and 32,000 from Kosovo, who Germany wants to send back in order to free up resources for those fleeing war.
"It is questionable if tens of thousands can be sent back in a relatively short time. That would be a real departure from the current practice of allowing even those denied asylum to stay and lead a life," said the centre-left daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an editorial.
Opposition parties also complained that the deal only sounds good on paper.
"People are waiting for half a year before their asylum applications can even be submitted. It is a complete mystery as to how the federal government can conclude the process within a few weeks in the special reception centres," said Robert Habeck of the ecologist Greens.
The Left Party said this is about "expelling at all cost, asylum rights are once more being curtailed".
In addition, Germany is facing pressure from its neighbours eager for Europe's top economy to take the refugee task off their shoulders.
Like Berlin, Sweden has opened its doors to refugees and is buckling under the load. In a stark message to migrants, its Migration Minister Morgan Johansson said at a press conference Thursday: "If you have a roof over your head in Germany, it'd be better if you stayed there."
Perhaps mindful that the agreement would only deal with part of the issue, barely hours after the agreement Seehofer himself said he has not buried his threat to file a legal challenge against the government over its refugee policy.
"We have prepared ourselves for several alternatives and negotiation possibilities," he told public broadcaster ARD.
At the moment, such action was not necessary given the deal with coalition partners, he said.
"But we will see if we will bring a legal challenge" later, he said.
Merkel's spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz shrugged off Seehofer's warning, saying: "The government is very unified on this issue."
News website Spiegel Online was less optimistic, saying that "it should be assumed that Seehofer will, at the next chance, switch back to fighting mode".