Merkel Cites `Gratifying' Reduction in Refugee Flow to Germany

  • Chancellor campaigns in state elections as party support slips
  • Merkel's CDU behind Greens in key state as campaign wraps up

German Chancellor Angela Merkel cited a “gratifying” drop in the number of refugees entering Germany and defended her efforts to reach a deal with Turkey on migration as she made a final effort to win votes ahead of three state elections Sunday.

With polls showing support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union slipping, the chancellor placed her open-border refugee policy front and center on Saturday as voters in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt prepared to go to the polls.

“Even if it’s gratifying that far fewer refugees are coming at the moment, there are still many here, so we still need to ask ourselves how we’ll confront this challenge,” Merkel told a crowd in the southern German town of Haigerloch on the edge of the Black Forest.

In the first electoral test for Merkel’s refugee policy, the German leader sought to blunt public discontent over the influx of asylum seekers from the Middle East, which has triggered the defection of many CDU voters to the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany party, or AfD.

More than a fifth of the German population lives in the regions with votes on Sunday, making the contest the biggest of Merkel’s third term. Polling stations open at 8 a.m. and close at 6 p.m., when exit polls will be released.

At the rally, Merkel reiterated her plan to seek a “sustained” reduction in the number of migrants. The current drop reflects multiple border closures from Austria south through the Balkan region in the past few weeks, measures that have caused a bottleneck on Greece’s border with the Republic of Macedonia. Merkel has said the unilateral measures endanger Europe’s system of open borders.

In Baden-Wuerttemberg, where the CDU was ousted five years ago by a Green-led government, Merkel’s party in opinion surveys has lost ground to the environmental party. Making her last campaign appearance in the state, Merkel blamed the Greens and the Social Democrats for slowing decisions aimed at stemming the refugee influx.

“Whoever wants faster decisions must vote CDU,” Merkel told the crowd.

The chancellor also defended her effort for a deal with Turkey as European Union leaders prepare for their second meeting in two weeks on Thursday. The total of 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) requested by the government in Ankara is worth the price to help prevent refugees from crossing into the EU, Merkel said.

Refugee Concerns

While voters will cast ballots for regional assemblies, surveys show the refugee crisis at the top of the list of the German public’s concerns after more than a million asylum seekers arrived last year.

Merkel, who grew up in communist-ruled East Germany, compared the response to the refugee crisis to Germany’s rebuilding after World War II and her CDU’s push to reunify the country.

“I stand here as a product of German unity, otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” Merkel said.

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