If Ms Merkel fails to win her party’s backing for her continued open-door refugee policy, it would lead to a rapid unravelling of her 10-year chancellorship
Chancellor Angela Merkel has flatly refused to back down on her controversial open-door refugee policies and effectively threw down the gauntlet in a challenge to the growing number of critics within her Christian Democrats who want to end the influx.
In a party leadership paper published on Friday, Ms Merkel rejected calls for an upper limit to the one million migrants who have already entered Germany this year and dismissed demands from sections of her Christian Democrats for Berlin Wall-style fences at the country’s borders.
Ignoring such requests, the Chancellor’s paper stressed that her government would do its best to “reduce” the number of refugees and insisted that a solution to the migration problem depended on the rest of Europe sharing the burden, and on a deal with Turkey to contain the influx.
Ms Merkel’s position forms the basis of a key leadership motion which will be put before her Christian Democrats at a party congress in the western city of Karlsruhe on Monday. The speech Ms Merkel will deliver is seen as perhaps the most important in her career. “In Karslruhe her power base will be called into question,” said the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung yesterday. “For the first time since the beginning of the refugee crisis, delegates will have a chance to vent their anger over Merkel’s policies.”
If Ms Merkel fails to win her party’s backing for her continued open-door refugee policy, it would lead to a rapid unravelling of her 10-year chancellorship. But even a weak majority in support would undermine her position as undisputed party leader and (until recently) Germany’s most popular post-war leader.
Public opinion backed Ms Merkel’s decision unilaterally to throw open Germany’s borders to a growing tide of desperate Syrian and Afghan refugees last summer. The influx gave birth to a spontaneous national “welcome culture” and the now-famous Merkel pledge: “We can do it.”
But the initial euphoria has since given way to widespread scepticism. Recent polls show that up to 61 per cent of Germans are dissatisfied with the Chancellor’s handing of the crisis. The chaos caused by the sudden refugee influx was highlighted earlier this week when the head of Berlin’s refugee welfare office resigned because his service could not cope with the sheer weight of demands posed by 50,000 new arrivals in the city.
Public dissatisfaction has been reflected in the rank and file of Ms Merkel’s party. At one party meeting in east Germany in October, the Chancellor was confronted by placard-waving members calling for her resignation. A growing number of her MPs also oppose her policies.
Critics point out that unlike previous crises, which Ms Merkel has solved by calling the shots, the German leader is this time intent on pursuing policies that leave her dependent on others – the rest of Europe and Turkey – for a solution.
“We too want a European solution,” complained Paul Ziemiak, head of the Christian Democrats’ youth wing and one of Ms Merkel’s staunchest critics. “But months have gone by and this still hasn’t happened – and there is little sign that it will.”