She came without a script, but Angela Merkel had a lot to say to party conference delegates. Maybe that was the very reason why her speech turned into an appeal that was, at times, emotional, writes Christoph Strack.
The CDU chairwoman reminded listeners of the phrase, "We can manage this," which she uttered at the end of the summer and which has been subject to a lot of criticism since. And she repeated it. "I can say this because it is part of our country's identity to achieve great things." She put the integration of refugees on a par with the rebuilding of Germany after World War Two and the development of the former East Germany after the Berlin Wall came down: projects which could not be completed by the work of one generation alone, but which have been success stories all the same. And in the way she talked about all this, Merkel appealed to the genetic code of her party in a way she has rarely done before - and made it proud. She linked the initial "C" from the party's name, Christian Democratic Union, to the reception of refugees. "Those who are coming are not hordes, but individual people," she said, delivering a sideswipe in passing to the CDU's sister party, the CSU in Bavaria.
Nonetheless, her speech indicated some major corrections to the previously adopted course. She touted prospective ideas that she has yet to negotiate with her Social Democrat coalition partners with regard to the second asylum law package: longer detention in reception centers, more deportations, more non-cash benefits. And while she kept stressing her party's benevolence and openness, Merkel also repeated the peculiar sentence she had uttered at the CSU party conference in Munich: You can deport people and show them a friendly face all the same. She means what she says.
Merkel as a giver of encouragement
All those who approached the microphone after Merkel thanked, praised and paid their respects to the chancellor. But some also articulated their concerns: the different course adopted by many EU states, the burden on municipalities, cultural challenges. Merkel addressed these worries, emphatically dismissing a "multicultural society." At this point, she switched over to a bellicose election campaign mode, claiming that advocating a "multicultural society" amounted to self-delusion.
But what about the "uprising?" In the run-up to the party conference, it had definitely not just been something conjured up by the media. Merkel's critics at the party's middle level are still around, but they are showing deference to the chairwoman. The delegates at the party base are closer to Merkel in this respect. There were a mere two dissenting votes against the refugee motion, which avoids any mention of an "upper limit," or even a "limit."
It was a good speech, and a strong one; it was European in every chain of thought. Merkel appreciates the worth of her party, and is aware that she has to appeal to the disheartened members as well. The chancellor, whose political style has often been maligned as "wait and see," now presented herself as a provider of encouragement, as someone who can explain what's possible.
By the same token, however, the party is also aware of Merkel's worth. Long before her principal, sweeping speech, Merkel took the floor for some preliminaries. She was already greeted then with minutes-long applause - to which she responded, at some point: "I haven't done anything yet." Merkel and the CDU, the CDU and Merkel - they have moved even closer to one another on this December day in Karlsruhe. And, following the example of its leader, the whole party is linking its destiny to openness toward refugees and commitment to integration. That is not too bad.
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