Berlin (CNSNews.com) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected leader of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at its convention in Essen on Tuesday, taking 89.5 percent of the votes. While a strong endorsement, the result was down from 96.7 percent four years ago.
“I know I've challenged you a lot – that was unavoidable,” she said in a 77-minute-long keynote speech to around 1,000 delegates. “But it's rarely the simple answers that advance our country.”
Merkel, who is running for a fourth term in general elections next year, depicted the CDU as representing the center of German society and values. She also defended her migrant and refugee policy, saying it was necessary to combat human trafficking.
But, in a nod to conservative forces in her own party and those in the CDU’s more conservative sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), she voiced support for deporting migrants whose asylum applications are rejected.
“Not all of the 900,000 refugees who arrived last year will be able to stay,” the chancellor said. “But every single case will be reviewed.”
Merkel did not directly refer to the anti-immigration, populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has already become the country’s third largest party, carried on a wave of anti-immigration sentiment and concerns about terrorism.
But she did state that it is “all of our people” who determine the voice of the German people, “and not just the few, no matter how loud they might be.”
The convention’s endorsement of Merkel comes at a time when she faces the prospect of fewer international allies by her side.
David Cameron quit as British prime minister after the Brexit referendum in June; President Obama departs next month; French President Francois Hollande has announced he will not stand for re-election next year, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has resigned after losing a referendum on constitutional reform, with 59 percent of voters rejecting the proposed changes.
Each of those four leaders had been close partners to Merkel.
On his most recent visit to Europe, his last as president, Obama joined Merkel in calling for deepened cooperation rather than a return to “pre-globalization.”
Obama described Merkel as “perhaps the only leader left among our closest allies.”
By contrast, President-elect Donald Trump, who is proposing a tough stance on immigration, has been openly critical of Merkel’s “open door” refugee policy.
The departures of Renzi and Hollande increase political uncertainty in Europe as their countries, like Germany, grapple with the rise of right wing populist parties.
In Italy, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement rallied against Renzi’s referendum and, taking advantage of the political turmoil sparked by its failure, has called for snap elections. They could happen as soon as early next year.
Renzi has in the past scrutinized Germany over its austerity policies and criticized the E.U. as “technocratic.” Nevertheless, he was working together with Merkel on issues such as negotiations for Britain’s departure from the E.U. and the refugee crisis.
For her part, Merkel had supported Renzi’s referendum. She expressed disappointment at the CDU conference that the vote “did not turn out as the prime minister wished because I always supported his reform policies,” although she added that it was a “domestic Italian decision that we must respect.”
In France, elections in April are predicted to produce a second-round runoff between Republican candidate Francois Fillon and Marine le Pen of the populist, far-right National Front.
Hollande, a Socialist whose approval numbers recently slumped to four percent, announced last week he would not stand for re-election.
He did so with a warning against the populist trend.
“The far right calls us to retreat, to exit Europe and the world. They are taking as reference what happened in the United States of America,” he said. “I am clearly telling you, the greatest danger is protectionism.”
Hollande’s prime minister, Manual Valls, resigned on Tuesday to become the Socialist flagbearer in the election.
Like Merkel, Hollande opposed Britain’s exit from the E.U. and supported the E.U.’s negotiated refugee agreement with Turkey.
In a recent book Hollande praised Merkel as “serious, intelligent, and concerned with striking a balance.”