Germany’s Merkel For the First Time Concedes on Demands for Refugee Admission Ceiling

By James Carstensen | October 9, 2017 | 9:45pm EDT
Angela Merkel has won a fourth term as federal chancellor of Germany. (Photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel)

Berlin ( – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has for the first time announced plans to limit Germany’s refugee intake, in an apparent bid to create a united front ahead of tough coalition talks to form a new government.

The announcement comes two weeks after Merkel secured a fourth term as chancellor in national elections, albeit facing a new challenge in the form of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party,  the first far right party to enter the Bundestag since the 1930s.

After a 10 hour meeting between Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its conservative sister-party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU), the two parties agreed on a draft paper setting a 200,000 annual cap on refugee admission.

Up to now, Merkel has resisted calls from the CSU for a ceiling.

The 200,000-figure refers to controlled entries , such as refugees accepted at the E.U. level, or exchanges under an agreement between the bloc and Turkey. According to German Interior Ministry data, 280,000 asylum seekers arrived in Germany last year, compared to 890,000 in 2015.

In a new YouGov opinion poll, commissioned by German news agency dpa, 56 percent of respondents expressed support for the CSU's demand for a refugee limit, while 28 percent of respondents opposed it.

Among the respondents, 55 percent of CDU voters and 69 percent of Free Democrats (FDP) voters were in favor of setting a limit, as were 96 percent of AfD supporters.

Green party supporters, by contrast, mostly rejected the idea, with only 26 percent in favor.

The FDP and Greens are the two parties Merkel’s CDU/CSU union are now pursuing a coalition deal with.

In the past, Merkel repeatedly rejected the CSU’s calls for a refugee intake ceiling – a notion also rejected by the FDP and Greens.

The YouGov poll suggests that, in the case of the CDU and FDP at least, party leaders have been out of sync with many supporters on this issue.

Asked during a pre-election television appearance about a refugee limit, Merkel had said, “You know my stance: I don’t want it.”

CSU leader Horst Seehofer was openly critical of Merkel’s controversial decision in 2015 to open the country’s borders to all asylum seekers, and disagreements over issues such as a refugee limit had strained relations between the sister parties.

Bavaria, where the CSU governs, dealt with 67,000 asylum applications, according to Federal Office for Migration and Refugees data.

In 2017, that figure has dropped to a little over 16,000 applications to date, although that is still the second-largest number of asylum applications by any German state this year.

In a manifesto published on Sunday, the CSU declared that “conservatism is sexy again,” and set out a list of ten demands including a refugee admission cap and calls for a commitment to “healthy patriotism.”

The manifesto also called for the AfD to be confronted “head on” and for the CSU to win back the support it lost to the anti-immigration party. Seehofer has blamed Merkel’s refugee policy for the rise of the AfD.

The AfD captured 12.6 percent of the votes in the election, and will replace the CSU as the party furthest to the right in the Bundestag.

Economist and Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz in a weekend newspaper interview attributed the success of the AfD on economic uncertainties and a growing number of people on low income – despite the fact Germany has the biggest economy in the Eurozone and an unemployment rate of just 3.7 percent.

“There is an economically justified fear in Germany,” he said. “People realize that globalization has worked great for companies and the rich, but not for the rest of the citizens.”

As she attempts to build a working coalition, Merkel faces the daunting task of trying to reconcile the diverse and conflicting interests of her own center-right supporters with those of the conservative CSU, the business-friendly FDP, and the left-leaning environmentally-focused Greens.

In their meeting on Sunday the CDU and CSU also discussed plans for broader immigration laws to focus on attracting migrants with qualified labor skills sought by German industry – a core demand of the FDP.

They also signaled plans to renew a proposal, previously rejected by lawmakers, to declare Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria “safe countries of origin,” thereby making it easier to bar asylum claims from those countries. The Greens criticized the proposal in the past, pointing to human rights abuses in the three North African countries.

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