Germany awoke Monday to denials that an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel was contradicting her liberal refugee policy. Julia Klöckner is running as top conservative for a regional election in Rhineland-Palatinate.
Klöckner, who is one of five deputy chairpersons in Merkel's Christian Democrat Union (CDU) party board, said her "Plan A2" to more firmly handle refugees at Germany's border was only a "supplement" to Merkel existing government policy.
"I support the policy of the chancellor expressly," Klöckner (pictured above) told the "Passauer Neue Presse," a newspaper in the southern Bavaria city of Passau.
It lies close to Germany's border with Austria and on a major route used by asylum seekers from mainly Middle East conflict zones, especially Syria.
On Sunday evening, CDU federal parliamentary group leader Volker Kauder had told German ZDF television that Klöckner's foray was not a diversion from Merkel's multiple strategy, including EU aid so Syrian refugees stay in Turkey.
Kauder said it was important "that alongside the focus on a [joint] EU solution, national steps also have to be promoted."
A whole set of Klöckner suggestions were already contained in an amendment bill on asylum to be finalized by Merkel's cabinet later this week, said Kauder.
Merkel's grand coalition government comprises her CDU and its traditionally allied Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), in partnership with the SPD led by Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.
'Plan A2' needed, says Klöckner
Klöckner's "Plan A2" foresees border centers to check applicants, firmer turning away of those rejected, and flexible" daily intakes based on a capacity of German municipalities to accommodate new arrivals.
Munich-based CSU General Secretary Andreas Scheuer told the Spiegel news magazine's online section that Klöckner's plan went in the "right direction."
The CSU's leadership has for months pressed its demand for an annual upper limit, with CSU premier Horst Seehofer saying recently that 200,000 was enough - a move rebuffed by Merkel on humanitarian grounds
'Utter panic,' says SPD's Stegner
The conservatives were in "utter panic," said deputy SPD chairperson Ralf Stegner citing surveys showing voter support for the CDU shrinking just seven weeks before the regional election.
"In truth it is an anti-Merkel plan," Stegner told the German DPA news agency, adding that Merkel's conservatives were trying to "plaster over how big the chaos and the dissatisfaction with the Chancellor is."
Three regional state elections pending
Latest surveys for Rhineland-Palatinate and two other regional states, Baden-Württemburg and Saxony-Anhalt, which all vote on March 13, show two-thirds of voters preoccupied with Europe's refugee crisis.
On Friday, the pollster "Wahlen" in a sampling for ZDF television pointed to a three-percent fall in support since November for the CDU in Rhineland-Palatinate, where Klöckner leads the state assembly opposition in the regional capital Mainz.
The CDU was on 38 percent, but only level-pegging with the combination of the SPD on 31 percent and the Greens on 7 percent, who currently govern as a coalition in Mainz.
The new hard right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party had surged to 9 percent.
Male-led surge for AfD
Another pollster, Emnid, said Sunday AfD support came almost exclusively from men. More than two-thirds of voters surveyed by the pollster thought the AfD was only a temporary phenomena.
The Wahlen/ZDF survey showed that on the question of who should be premier in Mainz, Klöckner was on 37 percent, trailing the SPD's incumbent Malu Dreyer, who was in front on 44 percent.
Rhineland-Palatinate has a population of four million, and alongside its regional capital Mainz, includes the cities of Kaiserslautern, Kolenz and Trier, and Ramstein, the USA's major airbase in Europe.
ipj/jil (AFP, dpa)