KARLSRUHE (Germany) • German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged yesterday to "noticeably" stem a massive refugee influx to quell a rebellion in her conservative ranks, but firmly rebuffed calls to slam the door shut.
At a pivotal party congress of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Dr Merkel said Germany would pursue a range of measures to stanch the flow of asylum seekers, slated to number around one million people this year.
"We want to, and we will, noticeably reduce the number of refugees," she said to rapturous applause at the congress in Karlsruhe, in the south-western state of Baden-Wurttemberg, which will hold state elections in March.
Her use of the phrase "noticeably reduce" came directly from a resolution the CDU leadership hastily reworked on the eve of the congress to head off an open rebellion over her refugee policy. In the updated resolution, the party leadership added: "A continuation of the current influx would, in the long term, overwhelm the state and society, even in a country like Germany."
In an uncharacteristically combative speech, she urged Europe to unite in mastering the refugee crisis and offered a vision of Germany at the centre of a strong, welcoming continent. Even after weeks of damaging infighting in which the right wing of the party demanded an upper limit on newcomers, Dr Merkel insisted Germany would continue to live up to its "humanitarian responsibilities".
"How would somebody think about us if they said, 'They didn't believe in their strengths; they really didn't do everything to find a solution,'" Dr Merkel said in her 70-minute speech yesterday. "My friends, the fight for a united European path forward is worth it. It's worth it to have a role in the world. I'm deeply convinced of this."
Ahead of an EU summit this week, Dr Merkel said she was banking on a multi-pronged approach to cut refugee numbers, urging bolstered protection for the bloc's external borders, support for Turkey to host refugees long-term, and a long-shot bid for a distribution scheme among EU member states.
She also touted a range of measures already undertaken in Germany, including extending a list of safe countries of origin, expediting repatriation of rejected asylum seekers and beefing up staffing to process applicants.
Dr Merkel also warned that Europe has not yet overcome the euro zone crisis and mistakes made by the founders of the currency project still need to be addressed. "We have not yet overcome the crisis," Dr Merkel said.
The gathering of around 1,000 delegates was viewed as one of the most important of Dr Merkel's 15-year tenure at the helm of the party. After weeks of internal debate, the CDU carefully staged a show of unity ahead of three key state elections in March and a decision next year on whether Dr Merkel will stand for a fourth term in the 2017 general election.
Lining up behind their party leader and Germany's chancellor of 10 years, delegates responded with cheers, whoops and almost 10 minutes of applause after Dr Merkel finished.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG