Merkel holds urgent talks on refugees to quell party revolt

Dr Angela Merkel with Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer (right) and Social Democratic leader Sigmar Gabriel in a 2013 file photo. The three are scheduled to meet today over the influx of newcomers into Germany.
Dr Angela Merkel with Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer (right) and Social Democratic leader Sigmar Gabriel in a 2013 file photo. The three are scheduled to meet today over the influx of newcomers into Germany. PHOTO: REUTERS

Chancellor seeks to defuse political unrest among allies over her handling of the crisis

BERLIN • German Chancellor Angela Merkel is holding emergency talks with party leaders this weekend to quell a revolt among her Bavarian allies over her handling of the biggest influx of refugees since World War II.

Back from a two-day trip to China, where the strain of the spiralling turmoil began to show, Dr Merkel was due to meet Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer yesterday. He has demanded she stem the flow of as many as a million newcomers into Germany this year. The two will meet Social Democratic leader Sigmar Gabriel, a coalition partner who opposes caps on refugees, today.

As Dr Merkel seeks to defuse the political unrest over her open-door refugee policy, she also confronts waning public approval for her insistence that Germany has a moral and legal obligation to protect all those seeking shelter from war and oppression.

Backing for her Christian Democratic Union slipped two points to 36 per cent this week, down from an August peak of 43 per cent, according to a weekly poll carried out by Forsa.

"Support for Merkel is dropping," Dr Andrea Roemmele, a political scientist at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, said in an interview. "There is still huge potential for civil society to help and support, but she has to do something."

While rumblings have been more muted from within her Christian Democratic Union, her chief critic has been Mr Seehofer, chairman of the Christian Social Union, the CDU's Bavarian sister party.

His state has been inundated by thousands of refugees pouring over the border from Austria. Mr Seehofer said Bavaria would take unspecified action if Dr Merkel did not meet his demands by today to curb the number of migrants, while Dr Merkel has rejected caps on asylum seekers.

Mr Gabriel, Dr Merkel's vice-chancellor, has turned on both, saying the Berlin-Munich quarrel was making the crisis worse. "This type of mutual intimidation and abuse is unworthy and simply irresponsible," Mr Gabriel told Spiegel Online.

Even as she faces accusations from party allies that her policies have triggered an unsustainable wave of migrants, Dr Merkel is in no immediate political danger from lawmakers who do not have any appetite to topple her and seek a successor. Still, the chancellor faces creeping isolation as a public initially lining up to welcome refugees begins to fret over the ever-mounting number of newcomers.

As a "super incumbent", Dr Merkel will be able to parry threats coming from the CSU and emerging from within her party, Dr Roemmele said. "What she cannot lose is public support."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 01, 2015, with the headline 'Merkel holds urgent talks on refugees to quell party revolt'. Print Edition | Subscribe