Merkel Urges Calm Against Terror in Election-Year Stability Bid

  • New Year’s speech focuses on security ahead of 2017 vote
  • German chancellor vows to seek respectful election campaign

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans to stay calm in the face of Islamist terrorism and criticized nationalists for offering false hopes of security, signaling she’ll count on voters to opt for stability when she runs for a fourth term in 2017.

In her New Year’s Eve speech to the nation, Merkel predicted a contentious political climate in a year that’ll include Donald Trump’s inauguration as U.S. president on Jan. 20 and elections in France and the Netherlands. Closer to home, she pledged to step up security measures as required after a series of terrorist attacks in 2016 culminating in the Dec. 19 truck assault on a Christmas market in Berlin that killed 12 people and was claimed by Islamic State.

“As we pursue our lives and our work, we tell the terrorists: They are murderers full of hatred, but it’s not they who determine how we live and want to live,” Merkel said, according to an advance copy of the nationally televised speech on Saturday. “We are free, humane, open. Together, we are stronger. Our state is stronger.”

Merkel’s comments reflect the surge in political risks to her chancellorship, though she may benefit because she’s familiar to voters and has no obvious successor after 11 years in office. A TNS Emnid poll published Tuesday suggested that 56 percent of Germans trust Merkel to master the political challenges facing the country in 2017, and a Forsa poll conducted after the Berlin attack showed support for her Christian Democrat-led bloc at the highest level since January.

Merkel gave no ground on her open-border refugee policy and took aim at populists who question the value of the European Union “or even of parliamentary democracy itself.”

“What a distorted picture,” she said. While the EU should focus on tasks it can truly do better than national governments, “we Germans should never let ourselves be tricked into believing that going it alone as a nation could lead to a happy future,” Merkel said.

German Attacks

Merkel has become the target of online vilification and an unprecedented political challenge by the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany, or AfD, since leaving Germany’s borders open as more than 1 million refugees arrived over the past two years.

Two attacks in 2016 cited by Merkel, a suicide bombing outside a music festival and an ax attack on a commuter train, were carried out by asylum seekers. The suspect in the Berlin attack was a Tunisian who sought asylum in Germany in July 2015 without a passport and avoided deportation because officials couldn’t establish his identity. That prompted Marcus Pretzell, a regional AfD chairman, to call the Berlin victims “Merkel’s dead” on Twitter.

Merkel sought to push back against her critics, saying she’ll work for a political debate “where we argue passionately about many things, but always as democrats,” with criticism voiced “peacefully and with respect for the individual.”

While polls suggest the AfD would enter the federal parliament if election were held now, Merkel’s more immediate challenge is ending a spat with her Bavarian allies, who are demanding a cap on migration.

Political Calendar

Lawmakers from the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, hold an election-year retreat on Jan. 4-6, ahead of a tentatively planned meeting in February between Merkel and Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer, the CSU head who’s her main antagonist on the national stage, to discuss a joint election platform.

Support for the CDU-CSU bloc rose two percentage points to 38 percent after the December attack, the highest since January, while the Social Democrats, Merkel’s junior coalition partner, declined two points to 20 percent, according to the Forsa poll. The AfD, which has swept into 10 of Germany’s 16 state parliaments since 2013, climbed one point to 12 percent, making it the third-strongest party in the Dec. 19-23 poll of 2,504 people. The margin of error was 3 percentage points.

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