Terror attacks dent Merkel's popularity

Pro-refugee supporters with a banner that reads "Berlin! Better without Nazis" during a demonstration last month. Dr Merkel's open-door refugee policy has come under attack from critics.
Pro-refugee supporters with a banner that reads "Berlin! Better without Nazis" during a demonstration last month. Dr Merkel's open-door refugee policy has come under attack from critics.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Growing unhappiness over her refugee policy gives anti-immigration rival boost in support

BERLIN • Popular support for Chancellor Angela Merkel has plunged.

A poll conducted after a spate of terror attacks in Germany showed that almost two-thirds of Germans are unhappy with her refugee policy.

The survey for public broadcaster ARD on Thursday showed support for Dr Merkel had gone down 12 points from her rating last month, to 47 per cent. This marked her second-lowest score since she was re-elected in 2013. In April last year, before the migrant crisis erupted, she enjoyed a backing of 75 per cent.

Her open-door refugee policy has come under attack from critics after five attacks in Germany since July 18 have left 15 people - including four assailants - dead, and dozens injured.

Two of the attackers had links to Islamist militants, officials said.

Support for one of Dr Merkel's fiercest critics, Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer, who has called for curbs on immigration, jumped 11 points to 44 per cent.

Over a million migrants have entered Germany in the past year, many fleeing from wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

Dr Merkel last week repeated her view that Germany could manage to successfully integrate the influx of refugees, and vowed not to change her refugee policy, which has been divisive and generated mixed reactions.

In a poll of 1,003 people conducted on Monday and Tuesday, 34 per cent of respondents - the lowest level since the question was first asked in October last year - said they were satisfied or very satisfied with Dr Merkel's refugee policy, and about 65 per cent were dissatisfied with the policy.

The next test of support for Dr Merkel will be state elections in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern next month, where her Christian Democrats (CDU) are expected to face a strong challenge from the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party.

A separate poll this week, however, showed that most Germans do not blame the government's liberal refugee policy for the two Islamist attacks last month.

Senior members of Dr Merkel's party defended her refugee policy after the polls were released. "We won't allow terrorists and violent criminals to change our European-western way of life," said Mr Peter Altmaier, her chief of staff, in an interview with Berliner Zeitung that was published yesterday.

"This includes the protection of human dignity and help for people in need. We need to check security measures, but the fact remains that Germany will also fulfil its humanitarian obligations in the future."

Arrivals of new refugees in Germany have fallen significantly this year, in part due to a European Union agreement with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants.

But human smuggling continues across the Mediterranean Sea, with Italy yesterday arresting eight people on suspicion of people smuggling and falsifying documents.

"The Chancellor's policy has led to a dramatic decrease in the number of refugees and the course must therefore be maintained," Mr Elmar Brok, a lawmaker in the European Parliament from Dr Merkel's CDU party, told Bild.

"It is a pity that her success apparently has gone unnoticed by the public," he added.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2016, with the headline 'Terror attacks dent Merkel's popularity'. Print Edition | Subscribe