ESSEN (Germany) • German Chancellor Angela Merkel outlined her battle strategy yesterday to counter a wave of populism that has consumed key allies abroad, as she launches into campaign mode for next year's elections.
Dr Merkel, who has led Germany for 11 years, last month confirmed she would run for a fourth term, but acknowledged that the elections would be "more difficult" than any other she has contested.
As she continues to confront criticism of her open-border refugee policy, Dr Merkel is positioning her party for next year's federal elections as a bulwark of stability against an incursion of populist anxiety throughout Europe.
"The world has become less clear," Dr Merkel told delegates yesterday at the party convention of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the western city of Essen. "We have a situation in the world - and this is especially the case after the US election - in which the world must sort itself out, and especially now on important subjects such as Nato and relations with Russia."
Dr Merkel also said her government will ensure that uncontrolled migration like last year's influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees never happens again.
"A situation like that in late summer 2015 can and should never be repeated," Dr Merkel said. "That was and is our and my declared political goal."
CDU delegates erupted in applause and cheers after Dr Merkel gave her strongest backing yet to a ban on clothing such as the burqa worn by Muslim women.
She had previously stopped short of supporting such a ban, sought by parts of her party, citing legal obstacles in the Constitution.
"We show our faces," Dr Merkel said in her 80-minute speech. "Full-face covering is not appropriate with us - it should be banned."
While the CDU leads in all national polls, Dr Merkel is facing some of the strongest headwinds of her 11 years in power. The CDU has suffered setbacks in five consecutive state polls as voters punish Dr Merkel for her liberal refugee policy.
During the last party vote in 2014, Dr Merkel garnered 96.7 per cent of support and this week's ballot will be closely scrutinised for any sign of dissent. "I'm counting on an honest result," she told public broadcaster ARD, as national media suggested that any score below 90 per cent would be a slap in the face.
The daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung said Dr Merkel's lock on re-election as party leader should not be viewed as an indication that there is no dissent. It said that in the background, key members were starting to think beyond her.
Dr Merkel's supporters will take heart from a recent survey showing that two in three Germans approve of her bid to stand again. But with nine months or more to go before the elections, CDU deputy chairman Julia Kloeckner said the party must not leave any gaps for the Alternative for Germany party to exploit. "If we only talk about healthcare for refugees, but not about the shortage of doctors in the country, then the mood will sour," she warned in an interview with Spiegel magazine.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG