Merkel at odds with her own party over refugees

Angela Merkel's change of direction on refugees could be politically damaging. []

Germany’s Christian Democratic Union is not on the same page as its leader, Angela Merkel. Now the party must come to a decision on an immigration law. EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.

Merkel, chair of the CDU, has suffered politically in the past by changing policy direction. The last time was in 2011, when the Chancellor announced an accelerated nuclear phase-out, despite having delayed the closure of Germany’s plants just prior.

This had disastrous consequences for Merkel’s party, especially in Baden-Württemberg, where the CDU lost one of its traditionally safe seats to the Greens and the SPD.

Four years later and the CDU is reliving the experience all over again. Once more, it relates to a core theme of the party. This time it is “identity”. Again, Merkel’s party is sending out conflicting signals and questions will inevitably be asked as to whether the CDU’s policy is actually credible.

Firstly, the Chancellor opened up the border with Hungary to refugees, which bypassed the EU’s much-criticised Dublin system. Then the German authorities struggled to deal with the influx of tens of thousands of asylum seekers, which they have been unable to register properly. Finally, Merkel has reestablished border controls, suspending Schengen arrangements on the Austrian border, in an attempt to deal with the chaos.

>>Read: Germany suspends Dublin system for Syrian refugees

When parliamentary faction and group leaders from both the CDU and the CSU met with Chancellor Merkel on Sunday evening (13 December) in a Berlin restaurant, the post-Fukushima situation was raised, some participants of the meeting reported.

Next spring, the state elections of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate will determine whether Merkel’s policymaking has lost her more support.

The Chancellor’s opening of the border a week ago “alarmed” her core voters, leading in turn to the “knock on effect” of more refugees than the authorities could handle and, eventually, the emergency steps taken on Sunday (13 September).  

Merkel is reported to have argued that the point that such a “humanitarian emergency” meant that no other course of action was possible. In her party’s national associations, however, the point of view that prevailed was that the opening of the borders was an action for which the country was not prepared.

This perception was only reinforced, and, continued to worry CDU supporters, when Merkel was photographed at a refugee reception centre in Berlin, smiling and posing for selfies, in pictures that quickly made their way around the net. One particularly bitter photo with the caption “Saint Joan of Arabia” made the rounds on social media.

On Sunday, Merkel sought to quell the anger that the visit had caused, stating that the pictures with the refugees were not planned and could not have been prevented.

>>Read: EU fails to agree on migrant redistribution system

Reintroduction of border controls is not a solution

Open criticism by the CSU of the Chancellor’s opening of the borders was considered “unhelpful” in many circles. At the same time though, it is a view shared by many parts of the CDU itself. However, the Chancellor knows that the decision to open the borders, as with the post-Fukushima situation, is an action that most Germans support.

The ripostes to Merkel’s initial movements include CDU faction leaders agreeing on asylum centres for refugees from the Western Balkans in every region, a residency obligation, the replacement of a monetary allowance with a non-cash alternative, and immediate deportation of individuals whose applications are not successful.

Mike Mohring, regional chairman of the CDU in Thuringia, stated, “We are going to do our utmost to ensure that the influx of refugees and asylum seekers is limited so as to not endanger our country’s integration.”

>>Read: Gabriel: Germany calls upon international community to aid refugees’ homelands

The fact that the CDU leadership decided on Monday (14 September) that a new immigration law will be discussed at the party’s congress in December, has been described by party members as an “unfortunate signal” that has come at the “wrong time”. Armin Laschet, whose party commission has worked on the issue for a year, defended Germany’s decision to reintroduce border controls.

The refugee crisis will clearly prove definitive in shaping the political landscape of Germany in the coming months and years.

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