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Domestic discontent

Merkel to Critics: Germany's Door is Open

VonJohn Blau and Heike Anger

Facing rising criticism at home for her open-door refugee policy, Chancellor Angela Merkel rebuffed critics during a speech to the Bundestag Thursday before setting off for Brussels to try to bring other E.U. nations in line. 

Ms. Merkel addressed parliament ahead of a key vote on several issues to deal with the influx of refugees pouring into the country. Source: Bernd von Jutrczenka

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Ms. Merkel addressed parliament ahead of a key vote on several issues to deal with the influx of refugees pouring into the country. Source: Bernd von Jutrczenka

Amid rising challenges to her authority, Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday rebuffed critics of her open-door refugee policy during a speech to the Bundestag, citing Europe’s “historic challenge” to deal with the flood of humanity pouring into the Continent.

“There is no one button you can press to solve all the problems,” she told the packed lower house of parliament, the Bundestag. “What is necessary is a unified European approach.”

Ms. Merkel told parliament what she said the night before at a rancorous, 1,000-strong gathering of her Christian Democratic party in a corner of former East Germany that has given birth to a growing, anti-foreign movement: Namely that Germany alone cannot solve the refugee crisis.

At the town-hall party meeting in Leipzig on Wednesday, Ms. Merkel conceded for the first time that refugee crisis has put her to the test.

“This is the biggest task I’ve faced in my life as chancellor,” she said. “I know it’s a difficult situation, but I won’t give up.”

Ms. Merkel has seen her strong popularity decline significantly after her decision to open Germany to Syrian war refugees, who have poured into the country and may eventually top 1 million this year.

At the town hall event in Schkeuditz, near Leipzig, some members of her own party accused Ms. Merkel of encouraging migration and failing to control the country’s borders. One held a placard with the words “Stop the refugee chaos – Maintain German culture and values – Dethrone Merkel.”

Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II has put the chancellor, in power for a decade, on the defensive, as she struggles to win over other E.U. countries to share more of the burden of housing the refugees.

Political observers see Ms. Merkel squeezed into an unfamiliar situation.

“She really had no idea what was happening locally until now,” Gero Neugebauer, a political science professor at Freie Universität Berlin, told Handelsblatt Global Edition. “Now she’s learning what it’s like to deal with politicians not only at the European level, but also at the local level. It’s also new for her to hear complaints of this magnitude from members of her party, which lacks a developed culture of debate.”

Mr. Neugebauer estimated that between 20 and 25 percent of CDU parliamentarians no longer support her open-door refugee policy but ruled out her ever calling for a vote of mistrust or throwing in the towel ahead of the federal elections in 2017.

“It’s been a typical case of Merkel muddling her way through a crisis,” Mr. Neugebauer said. “But the party knows there’s no one else but her to manage it.”

To continue reading this story, click here to go to Handelsblatt Global Edition.

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