Merkel unyielding in face of growing revolt over refugees

Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

Germany. – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to stay the course with her welcome to refugees but faces stormy waters, with some conservatives rebelling and key state elections on the horizon.

With about 3 000 new asylum-seekers still braving the winter cold to cross the border from Austria every day, Germany is headed for a repeat of last year when it took in a record 1,1 million migrants, straining resources and fraying nerves.

Merkel has stoically insisted “we can do it”, even as polls show that over half of Germans now have doubts.

The leader, long seen as a guarantor of stability in Europe’s biggest economy, is now being derided by a growing band of critics as a captain steering the country into chaos.

“Is Merkel still the right one?” asked the mass-circulation Bild am Sonntag newspaper this week as some 40 of her CDU party’s 256 lawmakers signed an open letter demanding an about-face on her liberal refugee policy.

Anger has flared especially among Merkel’s conservative CSU allies in Bavaria, the Alpine state in Germany’s deep south where migrants from the Middle East and Africa have arrived via the Balkans.

Its state premier Horst Seehofer on Wednesday declared their latest crisis talks with Merkel failed, saying “there was no trace of compromise” and predicting “politically difficult weeks and months” ahead.

Merkel doesn’t face national elections until 2017, but polls will be held in March in three states where the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) will seek to poach disaffected conservative voters.

Seehofer’s party has demanded that Germany, like Austria, set an upper limit on arrivals and seal its borders if necessary, even threatening to challenge Merkel in the country’s constitutional court.

Merkel has rejected those demands, fearing that backsliding on the right to political asylum for people fleeing war and persecution, and shuttering internal EU borders, will spell the end of the European dream.

Merkel has promised Germany a “tangible reduction” in arrivals this year and has vowed to tackle the crisis at the national, EU and international level.

But other EU states have so far shown little enthusiasm for sharing the refugee burden amid economic uncertainty, the rise of populist parties and a climate of fear sparked by the Paris and other jihadist attacks.

Many accuse the chancellor, celebrated as “Mama Merkel” by grateful refugees, of accelerating the influx by laying out the welcome mat to migrants, as several eastern European countries have shuttered their borders.

Looking at the crisis ahead at a key EU summit next month, Merkel insisted Wednesday that “I’m not going to talk about a Plan B because I want to see Plan A through successfully”.

A key plank of her plan is for the EU to pay Turkey billions for housing even more Syrian refugees and tightening its land and sea borders – a proposal she will again discuss with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Berlin today. Even more ambitiously, Merkel has said Western countries must address the root causes of Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II – chiefly the war in Syria – which will be subject of a London conference on February 4.

All the while, Merkel’s troubles abroad are blowing back at her domestically.

Outspoken CDU lawmaker Wolfgang Bosbach urged her to give up hope of a unified European solution.

“After Sweden and Denmark it is now the Austrians who are implementing more restrictive policies,” he said.

“If refugee numbers keep rising. . .Germany will have to change its course.”

The political acid test will be the March polls in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rheinland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt states. – AFP.

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