BERLIN • Islamist terrorism is the biggest test facing Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her New Year's address to the nation, as she vowed to introduce laws to improve security after a deadly attack before Christmas in Berlin.
Describing 2016 as a year that gave many the impression that the world had "turned upside down", Dr Merkel urged Germans to forsake populism and said the country had an interest in taking a leading role in addressing the many challenges facing the EU.
"Many attach to 2016 the feeling that the world had turned upside down or that what for long had been held as an achievement is now being questioned. The European Union for example," she said.
"Or equally, parliamentary democracy, which allegedly is not caring for the interests of the citizens but is only serving the interests of a few. What a distortion," she said in a veiled reference to claims by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party that is stealing votes from her conservatives.
Liberals across the Atlantic have hailed Dr Merkel as an anchor of stability and reason in a year that saw Mr Donald Trump elected as president of the United States, Britain vote to leave the EU and US-Russia ties deteriorate to Cold War levels.
In her nationally televised speech on New Year's Eve, she compared Brexit to a "deep incision" and said that even though the EU was "slow and arduous", its member states should focus on common interests that transcend national benefits.
"And, yes, Europe should focus on what can really be better than the national state," she said. "But we Germans should never be led to believe that each could have a better future by going it alone."
It was her second allusion to the populist AfD, which wants Germany to leave the EU and shut its borders to asylum seekers, more than one million of whom arrived in the country in the past two years.
The record number of immigrants has hurt Dr Merkel's popularity and fuelled support for the AfD, which says Islam is incompatible with the German Constitution.
Yesterday, the Chancellor defended her decision to let in tens of thousands fleeing war from mostly Arab and Muslim nations. "When we look at the images of bombed-out Aleppo in Syria, we have to say once again how important and right it was for us to have helped those who needed our protection to find their way here and to integrate."
Dr Merkel, who is seeking a fourth term this year, has made security the main election platform for her Christian Democrats. Her conservatives are still expected to win the general election.
In her speech, she said the government would introduce measures to improve security after a failed Tunisian asylum seeker drove a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin on Dec 19, killing 12 people in the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He was shot dead by Italian police in Milan on Dec 23.
A YouGov poll after the attack found 73 per cent of Germans were in favour of more resources for the police and 60 per cent backed more video surveillance in public spaces.
Dr Merkel also called on Germans to counter the terrorists - who are "murderers full of hatred" - with compassion and cohesion. "We are free, humane, open. Together, we are stronger. Our state is stronger."
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE