Merkel Cites Refugees as Boon as Anti-Immigration Party Advances

The Politics and Economics of a Refugee Crisis
  • Anti-immigrant party posts second weekly gain in voter survey
  • Chancellor says she's proud of Germany's welcome for refugees

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany’s economy is strong enough to absorb the influx of refugees, standing by her open-door policy as a poll showed gains for an anti-immigration party.

Merkel’s stance in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks underscores her willingness to court political risk and resist pressure within and outside her party bloc to close Germany’s borders. Amid speculation that one of the suicide bombers entered the European Union as a refugee, Merkel has said that asylum seekers shouldn’t have to bear the blame for last week’s attacks.

Angela Merkel arrives at immigration summit
Angela Merkel arrives at immigration summit
Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

“We’re a strong country, we’re a prosperous society and we have the strength to help,” she told a conference on integration Tuesday in Berlin. “We should not only talk about the burdens that this challenge brings to us, but also the opportunity.”

As Merkel pursues international diplomacy to try to curb the flow of refugees, support for her Christian Democratic Union rose 1 percentage point to 35 percent in an INSA poll for Bild newspaper. Even so, the Alternative for Germany party, which wants to curb immigration, gained for the second consecutive week, polling 10.5 percent.

That’s more than the opposition Green and Left parties, which polled 10 percent each. The Social Democrats, Merkel’s junior coalition partner, declined 0.5 percentage point to 23.5 percent. Bild gave no margin of error for the Nov. 13-16 poll of 2,057 people.

Alternative for Germany, known as AfD, polled 3 percent in the INSA survey as recently as August, when the CDU stood at 43 percent. While the party has won seats in several state legislatures, it’s not in the national parliament and Germany’s next general election is two years off.

‘Identity’ Question

“There’s good reasons why many citizens in Germany fear that mass immigration will lead to a change in our identity,” AfD co-head Frauke Petry said in a video on the party’s website. “Ordinary citizens will wind up paying the bill” for Germany taking in refugees, she said.

As officials in eastern Europe balk at a German-led effort to force them to accept refugees, Merkel said integration is possible in a tolerant society if newcomers follow the rules and take part in society.

“If that all comes together, then I think integration is possible, but nobody would understand it in such a way that one would abandon certain cultural characteristics,” Merkel said.

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