Merkel admits mistakes, sticks to refugee policy
By Eszter Zalan
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.
"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.
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.