Monday

16th Sep 2019

Merkel admits mistakes, sticks to refugee policy

  • Merkel's future is on the line as voters turn away from mainstram parties in state elections (Photo: CDU)

After a second stinging defeat in two weeks at the ballot boxes, German chancellor Angela Merkel admitted some mistakes in her refugee policy, but did not reverse her decision to open doors to asylum seekers.

In her first speech since Sunday's local election in Berlin, Merkel on Monday (20 September) said she would turn back time if she could to better prepare for last year’s migrant wave.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"If I could, I would turn back the time by many, many years," Merkel said.

The chancellor's Christian Democrats (CDU) slid to their lowest level since 1990 in the Berlin election in a result blamed on her handling of the migration crisis.

The right-wing, anti-migrant party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), won 14 percent and will enter the Berlin state parliament for the first time.

In her speech, Merkel did not single out her decision in August last year to open Germany’s doors to asylum seekers after thousands were stranded in Budapest’s Keleti railway station, but she pledged not to let last year’s “uncontrolled immigration” be repeated.

“No one wants a repeat of last year’s situation, including me,” she said.

She acknowledged that voters wanted to see a change in her policy, but added that they had not given a clear picture of what they wanted in its place.

"If I knew what change in policy people wanted, I would be ready to consider it and to talk about it," Reuters quoted her as saying.

Merkel told reporters that she needs to better explain her policy.

"If one of the reasons for the CDU's poor showing is that the direction, goal and conviction behind our refugee policy haven't been explained well enough, I'll endeavor to rectify that,” she said.

She distanced herself from her motto, “Wir schaffen das” (“We can do it”) that dominated coverage of the issues last year, calling it an “empty formula”, and said it failed to explain the reasons behind her decision.

“It wasn't meant to imply that it would be easy to deal with the influx,” she said.

Merkel also added that Germany lacked sufficient practice integrating immigrants.

"We weren't exactly world champions in integration, and we waited too long before we addressed the refugee issue. We have to get better, I do as well,” she said.

Merkel admitted she relied too much on Europe’s asylum laws, hoping that they would ease the burden on Germany. “And that was not good,” she said.

Merkel’s future

The voter’s backlash questions whether Merkel, Europe's most powerful political leader, will seek a fourth term next year.

She has not made up her mind yet, while the CDU’s sister party, the Bavarian CSU, has been pushing her to put a cap on migration numbers.

In her speech, Merkel again rebutted a cap of 200,000 people per year, arguing that it would not solve the problem, while being unlawful and unethical at the same time.

Questions have been raised whether the CSU would field its own candidate to run for chancellor, marking a historic break between the two parties.

The Bavarian premier and CSU leader, Horst Seehofer, has been Merkel’s most powerful domestic critic.

If Merkel wants to run again, some kind of agreement with the CSU would need to be hammered out in time for the party's conference in Munich on 4 November.

Seehofer, speaking after Merkel, said people did not want to hear backward-looking apologies.

"Justifications of the past do not help. We need answers for the future now and for the coming years, that's what people are waiting for," he said.

Merkel warns German parties against populism

The German chancellor, in her first speech since the bruising defeat of her party to anti-immigrant AfD over the weekend, defended her migrant-welcome policy.

Agenda

Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK

Jean-Claude Juncker will meet Boris Johnson for the first time, but no breakthrough is expected in Brexit talks. MEPs are preparing to hear from the commission-designates, while Hungary will be grilled at the EU affairs' ministers meeting.

News in Brief

  1. Nearly 100 refugees evacuated from Libya to Italy
  2. Juncker to meet Johnson on Monday
  3. First Hungary 'Article 7' hearing set for Monday
  4. Vestager picks Danish EU ambassador as cabinet head
  5. Commissioner hearings will start 30 September
  6. Italy says EU countries agree to take in rescued migrants
  7. Germany to organise Libya conference on arms embargo
  8. European Parliament to support another Brexit delay

Agenda

Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK

Jean-Claude Juncker will meet Boris Johnson for the first time, but no breakthrough is expected in Brexit talks. MEPs are preparing to hear from the commission-designates, while Hungary will be grilled at the EU affairs' ministers meeting.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK
  2. As recession looms Europe needs more spending
  3. How should the EU handle Russia now?
  4. EU defence bravado criticised by auditors
  5. Central European leaders demand EU Balkan accession
  6. Luxembourg's cannabis legalisation is EU opportunity
  7. The Catalan National Day has been a success. Why?
  8. Why I'm voting against the von der Leyen commission

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us