Monday

20th Nov 2017

Dissent threatens Merkel’s refugee plans

  • An AfD protest against Merkel's asylum policy. (Photo: AfD)

German chancellor Angela Merkel may have thought she dodged a bullet last week when she managed to reach a compromise with hardliner elements in her centre-right coalition on the issue of migration.

But renewed protests and violence on the streets of Berlin this weekend show she’s not out of the woods yet.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Forces outside the German political mainstream are gaining influence.

A protest organised by the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party drew over 5,000 attendees, who marched through the capital’s government district chanting "Merkel has to go".

Such marches have become regular events throughout Germany over the past year, particularly in Dresden. But while the other protests have been organised by Pegida, the explicitly xenophobic group formed as an anti-immigrant party last year, Saturday’s protest was organised by the more respectable Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD).

It is a worrying development for Merkel and her centre-right allies.

AfD was formed as an anti-euro party during the height of the European debt crisis, in protest at Merkel’s bailouts of Greece. Although it has no MPs in the German Parliament because of the high hurdle for entry, it entered the European Parliament last year with seven MEPs. Pegida does not yet hold any political office, though it is planning to field candidates.

Just a few months ago AfD was in disarray amid bitter infighting and five of its MEPs left the party. But since the summer it has made a sudden lurch to the right, grasping on to German people’s increasing anxiety over the feasibility of Merkel’s plan to accept asylum from any Syrian refugee.

Leadership changes at the top have seen more moderate voices on immigration, who would prefer to focus on Germany leaving the eurozone, expunged.

A poll released this week by the newspaper Bild am Sonntag found support for the AfD now at 9 percent - twice as much as in September. That figure is 14 percent in eastern Germany, where the Pediga protests have been most popular.

“The AfD is the only party telling the truth – that Merkel is putting Germany in danger with her open doors policy,” says Barbara from Berlin, one of the participants in Saturday’s protest. “The media is supporting her with their lies. She should resign.”

She says that she does not support Pegida because of their “extreme views,” and in the past supported Merkel’s CDU party.

Barbara is exactly the kind of voter Merkel is worried about – people who would not identify themselves as far-right but have found common cause with the AfD over fears of a migrant influx.

Matthias, another participant, says he does not disagree with the idea of granting asylum to war refugees but says the chancellor has no realistic plan to resettle them. “The numbers are too high and the plan has not been thought-through,” he says. Germany is expecting 800,000 asylum applications this year.

Meanwhile, dissent has been brewing within Merkel’s own political family. Last week, the chancellor was barely able to manage a compromise with the CDU’s Bavarian sister party the CSU, a more Conservative party in the area of Germany that has been most affected by the migrant influx.

Merkel was only able to prevent a rift between the historic allies after reaching a delicately crafted compromise with Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer, who had presented her with an ultimatum the week before.

She agreed to speed up the deportation of rejected asylum seekers from newly-declared "safe countries" in the Balkans. She also reportedly agreed to temporary freezing of family reunification. The government did not confirmed the information

But political observers believe the compromise only buys Merkel more time before the rift with the CSU really deepens. A CSU departure would not lead to a fall of the government – Merkel has enough seats with her coalition partner the Social Democrats. But it could lead to a collapse in CDU support which would make her position as chancellor untenable.

Ralf Stegner, deputy chairman of the Social Democrats, predicted on Saturday that the AfD will gain further popularity if the governing coalition does not come up with credible solutions for the refugee issue.

Much now depends on whether a solution is found at EU level. There is a perception in Germany that Berlin is ‘going it alone’ and other countries are not shouldering their fair share of the burden on migrant resettlement. That Merkel has been unable to strongarm other EU member states into taking more refugees is leading to increasing dissatisfaction.

Interior ministers were meeting Monday (9 November) ahead of a migration summit with European and African leaders on Wednesday and Thursday. An agreement reached over the summer to relocate 160,000 refugees throughout Europe has still not started in earnest, with less than 150 refugees having been resettled so far.

If Merkel is not able to secure greater efforts by other EU member states by the end of this week, the anxiety in Germany is likely to grow.

The AfD now looks like the party most likely to benefit from the public dissatisfaction, and the number of people willing to defend Merkel’s migration policy is shrinking.

A poll released last week by ARD found that over half of Germans feel the refugees bring more disadvantages than advantages.

Worryingly for Merkel, a planned counter-demonstration organised in Berlin on Saturday attracted far fewer participants than expected.

While organisers had predicted that up to 7,000 people would participate in the pro-migrant march against the AfD, only an estimated 800 turned out.

Many of those who did attend the counter-demonstration were from the far-left, and some got into violent altercations with police.

This is not the demographic which Merkel would usually look to for support.

Merkel's party displays unity on refugees

Ahead of Thursday's difficult talks with her coalition partner on transit zones, Angela Merkel's own party union displays unity on the refugee crisis.

EU expects 3mn migrants by 2017

The Commission expects 3 million people to come to Europe by 2017, in its first assessment of the economic costs and benefits of the migrant crisis.

Germany makes U-turn on Syria refugees

The interior ministry announced Tuesday it would start sending back Syrian refugees to the country of entry into the EU, taking coalition partners by surprise.

Meat 'taboo' debated at Bonn climate summit

Animal agriculture is responsible for a significant share of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, but until recently it 'was an issue that was really brushed under the carpet'.

Analysis

Sicily: Renzi finds Achilles heel in boot of Italy

Elections in Sicily at the weekend saw Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party trounced into third place - can the one-time wonder kid of Italian politics bounce back in time for 2018's national election?

News in Brief

  1. Bonn climate talks extend into Friday evening
  2. UK needs to move on Brexit by early December, Tusk says
  3. Puigdemont extradition decision postponed to December
  4. Ireland wants written UK guarantees to avoid hard border
  5. US did not obstruct climate talks, says German minister
  6. EU signs social declaration
  7. Puigdemont to be heard by Belgian judges
  8. Steep fall in migrants reaching EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  2. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  4. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  5. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  6. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  9. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  10. World Vision20 November: Exchange of Views at the EP on Children Affected by the Syria Crisis
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  12. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy

Latest News

  1. Decision day for EU agencies relocation race
  2. EU keeps former Soviet states at arm's length
  3. EU leaders make pledge on social issues after populist backlash
  4. EU agencies and eastern neighbours This WEEK
  5. Germany slams Dutch call for more ambitious EU climate goal
  6. Mind the gap: inequality in our cities
  7. Climate activists 'disappointed' with EU at climate talks
  8. Davis outlines UK vision on Brexit in Berlin

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  2. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersMale Business Leaders Gather in Copenhagen to Advance Gender Equality
  4. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened
  5. EU2017EEEstonia Anticipates More Digital Cooperation With Sweden
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina Launches Campaign to Protect IPR of Foreign Companies
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Condemns Attacks on Ruta Vanagaite and the Shredding of Her Books in Lithuania
  8. Bio-Based IndustriesDiscover the Future of the Bio-Based Economy. Register Now for the BBI Stakeholder Forum!
  9. European Free AllianceWelcome Catalonia!
  10. UNICEFGrowing Number of Unaccompanied Refugee Children in Greece in Need of Shelter
  11. Counter BalanceNature Destruction Cannot Be Compensated For, Say NGOs
  12. CES - Silicones EuropeSilicones - Enabling the Next Big Leap in Prosthetics and Health