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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Pressure on Merkel rises despite migrant shift

Trouble for German leader as coalition partner suffers poll slump

German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves a farm in her car in Nienborstel, Germany, 19 July 2018. EPA
German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves a farm in her car in Nienborstel, Germany, 19 July 2018. EPA

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was facing a new blow to her fragile governing coalition on Thursday after a poll showed a slump in support for a right-wing ally that has pushed a hardline immigration policy in Germany.

The survey, released ahead of an autumn state election in Bavaria, showed support for the Christian Social Union (CSU) had dropped to a historic low of 38 per cent in its regional stronghold. The far-right Alternative for Deutschland (AFD) has squeezed the CSU’s support and is set to enter parliament for the first time.

Spooked by its poor performance so close to the vote, the CSU leader Horst Seehofer, who is Mrs Merkel’s interior minister, pushed the coalition government to the brink of collapse this month by demanding restrictions on the number of migrants entering Germany.

Mrs Merkel, who took the historic decision to open Germany’s borders in 2015 as a tide of refugees rushed to find sanctuary in Europe and ISIS rampaged across Syria and Iraq, reversed course earlier this month to order that migrants be pushed back from the country.

Those migrants who have already applied for asylum in other European Union countries will be held in transit centres on the border while Germany negotiates bilateral deals for their return.

The German cabinet approved measures declaring Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Georgia safe countries of origin. A bill will cut the chances of those countries' citizens being granted asylum to virtually zero, allowing authorities to speed up the processing of asylum applicants from those states and their deportation if they are rejected.

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It now goes to the German parliament to be passed into law.

The CSU has also resumed policing the German border along the Bavarian state boundary with Austria on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the head of Germany’s Catholics Cardinal Reinhard Marx condemned Mr Seehofer and his colleagues on Thursday. He said it was the wrong approach to drift to the right simply because that was the spirit of the times.

"A party that has chosen the C in the name has an obligation, in the spirit of Christian social teaching, especially in its attitude towards the poor and the weak," Cardinal Marx warned.

The interior minister dismissed the criticism, saying confidence in the party would be restored when voters started to see the restrictions in action.

“You’ll see: I’ll be proven right with my position at the end. I said in 2015 that it was a mistake to open the border so wide,” he said. “Today, everyone says that migration is a question of Europe’s fate. We have scaled down immigration step by step.”