Merkel's refugee stance paying off ahead of German election

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s re-election prospects once looked shaky amid criticism of her “open door” refugee policy, but her leadership on refugees is paying dividends at home

Refugees queuing in Greece, 2016

Refugees queuing in Greece, 2016. Picture: CAFOD Photo Library/Flickr

Angela Merkel, the leader of the Germany’s ruling centre-right CDU/CSU coalition, is widely expected to win a fourth (and final) term as German Chancellor in parliamentary elections on September 24.

If she does win, Germany’s first female Chancellor and the longest serving leader in the western world will extend her rule for another four years.

Opinion polls suggest Dr Merkel will win easily. Recent polls indicate support for the CDU/CSU is around at 40 per cent; with a 15 per cent lead over the next serious contender the Social Democratic Party (SDP), led by former European Parliament President Martin Schulz.

But last year Dr Merkel’s chances of re-election looked shaky, with many blaming her government’s ‘open door’ policy on asylum seekers.

Dr Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appears on track to win a fourth term. Picture: Philipp/Flickr

MERKEL’S ‘OPEN DOOR’ REFUGEE POLICY

According to the UNHCR, over a million people entered the EU in 2015 seeking international protection – mainly from Syria. And many more continue to flee the conflict there.

A huge number of asylum seekers sought protection in Germany in the same year – the German government put the figure at 890,000.

‘If Europe fails on the question of refugees, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for,’ Dr Merkel said when she declared that all Syrians would be eligible to apply for refugee status in Germany. Her position was grounded on positive public opinion in Germany toward helping asylum seekers, especially those fleeing the civil conflict in Syria.

DECLINING SUPPORT

But domestic support began to decline as some regional states began to face financial and operational difficulties registering, processing and integrating so many people.

The lack of foresight and coordination at the federal level in supporting over-burdened states encouraged resentment and disillusionment.

The public mood appeared to become even more apprehensive when more than 1,200 women were sexually assaulted on New Year’s Eve 2015-16 in various German cities including Cologne and Hamburg. According to authorities, about half the suspects were recently-arrived foreign nationals.

This provided fertile ground for right wing populist parties such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) to succeed in regional elections on an anti-refugee platform. During 2016, the AfD won seats in 13 out of 16 state parliaments in a result interpreted as a reaction to Dr Merkel’s refugee policy.

Read the full story in Pursuit

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Tamara Tubakovic