Merkel shuns CSU conference for first time

Angela Merkel stayed away from the CSU party conference for the first time since she became chancellor in 2005. It was a chance for Austria to strengthen its ties with Bavaria. [Michael Panse/Flickr]

Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner, the CSU, has closed ranks with Austria at its party conference, particularly when it comes to refugee policy, as integration concerns increase. EURACTIV Germany reports.

For the first time, Chancellor Angela Merkel did not put in an appearance at the Christian Social Union in Bavaria’s annual conference on Friday (4 November) amid fears that she would be heckled, as conservative Germany appears to be losing faith in its leader.

Last year, the chancellor stood in silence as CSU leader Horst Seehofer gave her a dressing-down on her open-doors refugee policy.

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Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) was in attendance though, as he was invited to be a guest speaker. It emerged that Vienna and Munich, under the leadership of Horst Seehofer, share a common line on refugee policy.

When it comes to EU relations with Turkey and bloc membership, the two parties also come to a consensus. Seehofer insisted that “with such a country there cannot be visa liberalisation and negotiations on EU membership have to be broken off”.

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Kurz echoed this sentiment, saying that “a Turkey that intimidates journalists, imprisons opposition leaders and thinks about reintroducing the death penalty has no place in the EU”.

The Austrian has also presented this point of view in the Council of Foreign Ministers, which influences the progress report that is set to be published on Turkey’s membership bid.

Seehofer told the party delegates gathered in Munich that an upper limit on refugee numbers is essential to the CSU and is a “prerequisite in order to ensure integration long-term. No country in the world can cope with the numbers we experienced last year. That is why we are calling for a limit of 200,000, which is anything but un-Christian or inhumane.”

The Bavarian politician also cited a recent comment by Pope Francis, in which the pontiff said that a country should not take in more refugees than can actually be integrated. He added that people wishing to settle in Germany would have to accept the fundamental rules of European society.

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The CSU’s new manifesto is aimed at trying to secure the middle-right of Germany’s political spectrum, as well as trying to limit the growth and incursion of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) far-right movement.

It’s a strategy that Kurz would like to follow in Austria, where its AfD equivalent, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), is still making significant gains in the polls.

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