Wed, Sep 13, 2017 - Page 9 News List

How Merkel climbed out of the asylum seeker political abyss

By Noah Barkin  /  Reuters, BERLIN

“I offer you terror, death and chaos,” the sign read.

However, the dozen or so protesters were dwarfed by supporters who applauded her message.

“I’m not sure if there was another way to handle the refugee crisis. Those refugees had to go somewhere,” said Willi Kordes, 70, who runs a sewage treatment firm in nearby Vlotho. “I don’t trust anyone to do it better.”

OPEN-DOOR BACKING

Working in her favor in the election is the fact that many of Germany’s other established parties, including the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), led by her main challenger, Martin Schulz, backed her open-door policy.

The AfD, running a racially tinged campaign that has put off some voters, has come off its last year’s highs in the polls.

The one mainstream party that has offered a hardline alternative, the Christian Social Union (CSU), is the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). A vote for the CSU is akin to a vote for Merkel.

A crucial factor behind Merkel’s rebound has been the decline in asylum seekers entering Germany. About 280,000 arrived last year, with another drop likely this year.

Merkel takes credit for this, pointing to a deal she brokered between the EU and Turkey, under which Ankara has cut the number of migrants crossing into Europe via its territory.

However, critics say the closing of Balkan borders — which Merkel publicly opposed — was the real driver.

Some see parallels with her behavior in the eurozone financial crisis, when European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s pledge to do “whatever it takes” to keep the currency bloc together, allowing her to stick to a hard line towards euro states such as Greece without fear of consequences.

DIRTY WORK

In the refugee crisis, it has been countries like Macedonia, Turkey and Hungary — which shut down routes the refugees used — that have done Merkel’s “dirty work,” allowing her to maintain the image of a caring leader who helped people fleeing war.

The approach has helped Merkel extend her control over the political center. Some right-wing voters may have fled for the AfD, but polls suggest young, urban voters who traditionally lean left could fill the gap.

Germany’s economy has been strong enough to absorb the influx of refugees without big cracks emerging in society. In reaction to its Nazi past, Germany has emerged as a more open, tolerant country than many assumed when the crisis hit.

A survey published this month ranking the top fears of the Germans put terrorism at the top, but a separate poll for the Bild newspaper showed they do not see curbing immigration as a priority.

“Germans are astonishingly global, liberal and open to the world,” said Menno Smid, head of the Infas Institute for Applied Social Sciences, which released a survey last month showing broad acceptance of refugees in Germany.

“We are the winners from globalization. The economic factors that led to Trump simply don’t exist,” he said.

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