Merkel accepts partial blame for Berlin defeat
One day after her conservative party got hammered in Berlin’s local election, Chancellor Angela Merkel took responsibility for the loss. She also said there would be no repeat of “uncontrolled” immigration.
In her first news conference after her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) recorded its worst-ever showing in a Berlin election, Merkel took partial responsibility for that defeat while again blaming opposition to her refugee policies on communication shortcomings.
“I’m the party chairwoman, and I’m not going to duck responsibility,” Merkel told reporters. “If one of the reasons for the CDU’s poor showing is that the direction, goal and conviction behind our refugee policy haven’t been explained well enough, I’ll endeavor to rectify that.”
Merkel admitted that some Germans may have objected to her declaration, “We’ll get it done,” when faced with hundreds of thousands of refugees and said it wasn’t meant to imply that it would be easy to deal with the influx. She also said Germany lacked sufficient practice integrating immigrants.
“It can’t be done quickly, among other things because we didn’t do everything correctly in past years,” Merkel said. “We weren’t exactly world champions in integration, and we waited too long before we addressed the refugee issue. We have to get better – I do as well.”
Merkel said Germany had placed too much faith in agreements to share refugees among European nations.
“For a long time, I, too, relied on the Dublin procedure that seemed to promise to relieve us Germans of the problem – that wasn’t good,” Merkel said. “If I could, I’d turn back the clock many years in order to better prepare the government for the situation that hit us in the summer of 2015.”
No repeat of 2015
Merkel admitted that there were problems in housing refugees, that the process of applying for asylum was too long, and that most of the work of integrating refugees into the labor market still lay ahead. She said that for ethical reasons neither she nor her party could change course and reject refugees, Muslim or non-Muslim.
But she also said she understood frustration with last year’s situation, which she blamed on a “humanitarian emergency.”
“If people are saying that the situation of uncontrolled, unregistered immigration should not be repeated, then I’ll fight for that not to be repeated,” said Merkel. “No one wants that situation, and neither do I.”
Some 1.1 million migrants and refugees arrived in Germany in 2015. Merkel said that fewer refugees were coming and that more was being done to combat human trafficking.
She once again called upon the EU to reach a common position on refugees. Concluding with an emotional appeal to critics, she expressed belief that Germany would emerge stronger from the refugee crisis.
But with local elections and a national vote looming in the coming year, she will need to start convincing critics well before that.
Angela Merkel on Monday signalled for the first time that she was prepared to change her controversial refugee policy in the wake of heavy losses to the resurgent far-Right in regional elections.
“If I knew what change in refugee policy the people in Germany want, I would be prepared to consider it,” Mrs Merkel said.
“If I could, I would go back in time to be better prepared for the refugee crisis in 2015, for which we were rather unprepared.”
Mrs Merkel was speaking at a specially arranged press conference to address her Christian Democrat (CDU) party’s disastrous performance in Christian Democrat (CDUat the weekend.
Merkel at a press conference on Monday, September 19, 2016. Credit Bloomberg
“I take responsibility as party leader and chancellor,” she said, describing the results as “bitter”.
The CDU slipped to its worst ever showing in the German capital, with just 17.6 per cent.
The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party won the highest share of the vote for the far-Right since the Second World War, with 14.5 per cent.
Mrs Merkel said she would not repeat her earlier slogan in the migrant crisis of “We can do it” because it had become “an empty phrase”.
It was the first time she has indicated she is prepared to back down from her “open-door” refugee policy, which has seen the CDU fall to its lowest level in the national polls for four years, and her personal approval ratings plummet.
Peter Foster talks about Merkel’s migrant crisis one year on Play! 01:52
The chancellor reacted defiantly to previous losses in regional elections, but in a sign of how seriously she is taking the Berlin results, cancelled plans to attend the UN General Assembly in New York in favour of Monday’s press conference.
With just a year to go before national elections, Mrs Merkel is still refusing to say whether she will stand for a historic fourth term as chancellor.
But it is clear that Mrs Merkel feels she can no longer allow her party to go on suffering defeats at the hands of the far-Right.
During her more than 10 years in power in Germany, Mrs Merkel has repeatedly shown that no position is non-negotiable and she is prepared to change course if necessary – most notably when she made a U-turn over her unpopular support for nuclear energy before 2013’s elections.
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Until now, she has remained immovable over her refugee policy. But at Monday’s press conference she indicated she is prepared to shift her position.
But she also made it clear she is not prepared to back down completely.
“If people don’t want Muslim asylum-seekers purely because of their religion, that is contrary to our party principles and to Germany’s,” she said. “The CDU and I cannot go along with that.”
The election results in Berlin came just two weeks after similar losses in the northern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and her allies are demanding action.
“This is the second massive wake-up call in two weeks,” Markus Söder of her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) said.
“It is high time we find common ground to survive at the next election,” Horst Seehofer, the CSU party leader, said, adding that the sister parties faced “the most difficult position we have ever been in”.
One problem for Mrs Merkel is that any changes she makes to her refugee policy will be largely cosmetic at this point.
As Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper noted, she is “being punished for alleged refugee-friendly policies she ended long ago in reality”. The number of asylum-seekers entering Germany has fallen to a trickle this year, following the closure of the so-called Balkan route and the EU’s migrant deal with Turkey.
Commentators have also pointed out that there was more to the CDU’s poor showing in the Berlin elections than her refugee policy. The German capital has serious administrative problems, with residents facing waits of several months for routine procedures such as reporting a lost driving license.
But it is the rise of the AfD which has dominated the headlines and unnerved Mrs Merkel’s allies.
The party now holds the far-Right’s first seats in the Berlin state parliament since the 1990 reunification of Germany, and its councillors will have direct influence over refugee policy.
Breakout Box — Alternative for Germany (AfD)
The is a right-wing populist, Eurosceptic political party in Germany. Its agenda is anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-austerity.
They began in 2013 as a small party of protest against German taxpayers bailing out Greece. After campaigning on an openly anti-Muslim platform in 2016, the party won the highest share of the vote for the far-Right in Berlin since the Second World War, with around 14 per cent.
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