Merkel Party Demands Defense of German Nationality for 2017 Vote

  • CDU convention delegates defy leadership on citizenship rights
  • German chancellor hits campaign trail with weakened backing

Merkel's CDU Preps for Fight on Right and Left

Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing a push by her party to defend German identity, as rank-and-file members challenge parts of her agenda in a bid to counter populists in next year’s election.

Merkel said she doesn’t feel bound by the vote at a Christian Democratic Union convention on Wednesday to scrap a law passed on her watch that tolerates dual citizenship for some Germans with foreign roots. Even after delegates meeting in the western city of Essen cleared the way for Merkel to run for a fourth term in 2017, the ballot exposed frustration among the party’s base about policies viewed as alienating socially conservative voters, including her open-door stance on migration. 

With Donald Trump headed for the White House and a German anti-immigration party declaring her public enemy No. 1, Merkel is seeking re-election under different circumstances than in 2013 when she won the biggest electoral victory since German reunification. Delegates confirmed Merkel, 62, as party chairwoman with the lowest score of her chancellorship after she urged them to “help me in times like these” in her convention speech rallying the CDU for the campaign.

“There’s a negative Merkel effect in this election for the first time,” Karl-Rudolf Korte, head of the School of Governance at Duisburg-Essen University, said in an interview. “Many people hold her personally responsible for the loss of order” during last year’s influx of some 890,000 asylum seekers, making her renewed candidacy a “big risk” for the party, he said.

Merkel broadly upheld liberal values of tolerance and openness in her keynote speech on Tuesday, though she explicitly backed a ban on full-face veils, such as the burqa worn by Muslim women. She rejected the convention vote on citizenship, saying she won’t change the law during the remainder of her term.

“I personally view it as wrong, too,” Merkel said in an interview with NTV television. “It happens every once in a while at conventions: You lose a vote.”

‘Arab Gangs’

Members of the party’s youth wing are among Merkel’s most strident critics. “We should orient our policies toward the German majority” rather than migrants who may not want to accept German values, Bastian Schneider, the deputy head of the Young Union, said in a floor speech. Volker Kauder, parliamentary leader of the CDU-led party bloc in the government in Berlin, said authorities need tools to combat criminals, including “Arab gangs.”

While Merkel successfully fought to keep her party behind bailouts for Greece and preserving the euro, last year’s refugee crisis is emboldening parts of the CDU that are dissatisfied with her reversals of long-standing policies, including abolition of the military draft and phasing out nuclear power. Her party critics also blame her in part for the rise of Alternative for Germany, the anti-immigration party that’s won seats in 10 of 16 state parliaments.

“I used to be part of the liberal camp in the CDU,” convention delegate Christine Arlt-Palmer, 51, said in an interview. “But when Merkel said at the height of the refugee crisis that Germany is unable to secure its borders, I couldn’t support her anymore.”

CDU delegates rebelled against the leadership in voting to scrap a 2014 law, passed by Merkel and her Social Democratic coalition partner, that allows children of immigrants born in Germany to hold dual citizenship indefinitely. The measure was aimed in particular at Germans of Turkish descent, the country’s biggest minority. 

“Scrapping dual citizenship would be a huge step back for integration,” Justice Minister Heiko Maas, a Social Democrat, said in a statement.

Poll Lead

For all the headwinds, all national polls suggest that Merkel’s CDU and its Bavarian CSU allies would win the election if it were held now. Support for Merkel’s bloc declined one percentage point to 36 percent and Alternative for Germany fell one point to 10 percent in the weekly Forsa poll published Wednesday. The Social Democrats were unchanged at 22 percent, according to Forsa, which polled 1,007 people on Dec. 1-2. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Peter Tauber, the CDU’s general secretary, suggested that some voters who have drifted to the Alternative for Germany won’t return.

“We need to focus on normal people and their fears and concerns, not the ones who are shouting and screaming,” he said.

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