BERLIN — The past six weeks of refugee crisis have shown Chancellor Angela Merkel unwavering in her resolve to have Germany accommodate hundreds of thousands of newcomers from the Middle East and Africa. But for how long?
German and European Union leaders have called for European countries to share the burden of absorbing the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have poured into the continent this summer.
The migrant crisis, with its domestic and external pressures, may prove to be another matter. But by giving ground on some political points, she has so far tamped down opposition in her own conservative camp.
In Berlin, the upper house of Parliament — which includes the governors of Germany’s 16 states, who have been on the front lines in dealing with the migrant influx — on Friday followed the lower house and passed a new package of measures tightening Germany’s generous asylum conditions. The lawmakers cut cash and other benefits to new arrivals, and promised a speedier process to satisfy those worried that Germany’s generosity would be its downfall.
But all complained that they are reaching their limits.
“We have this damned pressure,” said Malu Dreyer, the Social Democrat governor of Rhineland-Palatinate, and help in processing people must come fast. “We have the clear expectation that in terms of staffing, things will go very, very quickly.”
Ms. Merkel sent her interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, who has been accused of waking up too late to the refugee crisis, to reassure state and local leaders that help — and federal funds — were at hand.
But some areas are moving on their own. Two city-states, Hamburg and Bremen, have already passed laws giving them the right to commandeer empty properties to try to give refugees roofs over their heads — and not tents — as winter approaches.
Meanwhile, attacks continue on planned or existing refugee shelters — 375 this year, including 72 arson attacks and a new suspected arson in the town of Flensburg overnight, according to the police and a tally kept by two nongovernment groups, the Amadeu Antonio Foundation and Pro Asyl.
Pro- and anti-immigrant groups are girding for a Monday rally in Dresden by the anti-immigrant group Pegida, a year since it started demonstrations that peaked at 25,000 people last winter.
In national politics, the fiercest opposition to Ms. Merkel’s decision on Sept. 4 — with Austria — to throw open the borders to tens of thousands of refugees then trapped in Hungary comes from her own conservative camp. Bavaria’s Horst Seehofer, head of the sister party to Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, again this week criticized her government for what he sees as a lack of deeds to back up nice words welcoming in the 300,000 refugees that he says have arrived in the last month.Continue reading the main story Closing the Back Door to Europe In recent months European nations have worked to block the main route taken by migrants fleeing war and upheaval.
Scores more of mostly local conservative politicians have signed an open letter to Ms. Merkel, which pleads with her “to take speedy measures which would reduce the current influx of refugees swiftly and effectively.” A banner held high as the chancellor addressed a party meeting near Leipzig this week demanded, “Dethrone Merkel.”
With no elections in Germany until next spring, Ms. Merkel, 61, is, for now, in little danger. She has been in office almost exactly 10 years. Opinion polls now have her party at 38 or 39 percent, compared with 41.5 percent of the vote in the last national elections in 2013, and her personal rating has slipped.
The most recent Politbarometer national survey by the public broadcaster ZDF on Oct. 9 showed support slipping slightly for Ms. Merkel’s handling of the refugee crisis. Results showed 46 percent saying she was doing a good job, and 48 percent saying she was not.
Yet she has no visible rival in her conservative bloc, and the Social Democrats — her center-left partners in the “grand coalition” government — are at or below 25 percent in national polls. The first voter test comes next March, with three state elections. The federal government itself is not up for elections until 2017.
Although she is known for waiting out many a conflict before intervening, sudden moves are not unknown for Ms. Merkel. She emerged as a conservative leader after demanding the demise of her biggest patron, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. In 2005, she ditched tax overhauls that almost cost her the election; in 2011, after the Fukushima meltdown, she decided to abandon nuclear power.
As for her position on migrants, pressure is intense. Yet another European Unionsummit meeting — the fourth on migration — ended in the early hours of Friday with little concrete agreement on how to make Europe’s borders secure once more. A visibly weary Ms. Merkel acknowledged, “We need additional, and much more, discussion until all understand.”
Ms. Merkel faces her next challenge, or “damned duty,” as she called it last week, on Sunday: persuading Turkey to prevent the Syrians crossing by sea to Greece and then traveling on to Central Europe.
In her talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, Ms. Merkel must delicately balance Europe’s need for Turkey’s cooperation with Ankara’s demands for money and looser European visa conditions. She must also maintain Europe’s strong concerns about the rights of Turkey’s Kurdish minority and escalating military clashes between Kurds and Turkey’s army.
Karen Donfried, formerly in the Obama White House and now president of the German Marshall Fund, said, “This is the most significant challenge Germany has faced in recent years.”
“It’s very impressive, how the Germans have been managing this to date,” Ms. Donfried said on a visit to Berlin. How Ms. Merkel finesses coming challenges, like Turkey, “we’ll have to see.”
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