Merkel Stands By German Border Opening to Refugees in 2015

  • Chancellor is front-runner four weeks before German election
  • Record influx has drained votes from mainstream parties

Merkel's Election Challenges

Chancellor Angela Merkel, the front-runner in next month’s German election, said she’d change nothing in her approach to Europe’s refugee crisis two years ago if she had the chance.

“I would make all of the important decisions of 2015 the same way again,” Merkel was quoted as saying in a Welt am Sonntag newspaper interview published Sunday. Four weeks before Germany’s election on Sept. 24, the comments underscore her conviction that there was a humanitarian need to open the border when a record influx of refugees made their way through southern and eastern Europe to Germany that year.

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Part of the problem in the buildup to the 2015 crisis is that Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy were too often left alone by other European Union countries to deal with refugees arriving from outside the bloc, Merkel was quoted as saying. She renewed her campaign pledge that Germany “should never again witness” such an emergency.

Merkel’s open-borders stance depressed her approval ratings last year and spurred the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party after a record number of 980,000 asylum seekers, many of them fleeing war in Syria, arrived in Germany in 2015. Critics included U.S. President Donald Trump, who called Merkel’s policy a “catastrophic mistake” in an interview with European media.

Merkel’s poll numbers rebounded as the influx ebbed to 280,000 last year, restricted by border closures along the so-called Balkan route and a refugee accord between the EU and Turkey. Some 106,000 asylum seekers arrived in the first seven months of 2017, led by Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, according to German Interior Ministry figures.

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Support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc declined 1 percentage point to 38 percent while her main opponent, the Social Democrats led by challenger Martin Schulz, also fell 1 point to 23 percent, according to a weekly Emnid poll for Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

At the same time, 51 percent of Germans would vote for Merkel if the chancellor were elected directly, compared with 22 percent for Schulz, according to the newspaper. That compares with a 39-38 percent edge for Merkel in January, when Schulz’s emergence as her main challenger gave the SPD a temporary poll boost.

The pro-business Free Democrats and the Alternative for Germany gained one point each in the weekly survey, polling 9 percent and 8 percent respectively, with the anti-capitalist Left party unchanged at 9 percent and the Greens declining 1 point to 7 percent.

Merkel, 63, has governed with the Social Democrats in a “grand coalition” for eight of her 12 years in office, including the last four. Surveys suggest the numbers may not add up on election day for a coalition with a smaller party such as the Free Democrats, her second-term partner. Emnid polled 1,979 people between Aug. 17 and Aug. 23. No margin or error was given.

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