As support wanes, Merkel takes message to voters | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 21.08.2016
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Germany

As support wanes, Merkel takes message to voters

The German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern goes to the polls soon, and the CDU fears it is losing ground to the AfD - particularly on security. Now Chancellor Merkel is joining the campaign, Sabine Kinkartz reports.

She would love to be one of them, at least for an hour. That's how long Chancellor Angela Merkel's campaign stop lasted in the Baltic Coast town of Ribnitz-Damgarten.

The local chapter of her Christian Democrats had set up a stand with a small stage on the edge of the market square. Retirees and tourists sat there huddled together on a few benches surrounded by several security barriers. Two dark limousines approached. "She's not in there," the retirees mumbled.

Merkel was actually at the nearby market, strolling from stand to stand among journalists and her security detail, on her way to the campaign stage. For every product she passed - flowers, honey, bread and meat - she had a question at the ready.

A woman smiled at her and took her hand. "Good luck with your work," she said. The chancellor smiled back in thanks in front of the rolling cameras. These are images she needs and wants.

AfD ascendant

Merkel has several campaign appearances planned in the runup to the September 4 election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and for all of them she has a single message: Her CDU has everything under control at both the federal level and in the state.

That's been an increasingly difficult argument to make to voters since the beginning of the refugee crisis. Merkel is more controversial than ever, and that was on display even in this northernmost state in former East Germany. The CDU and its federal coalition partner, the SPD, are running almost neck-and-neck at the state level. The Left Party, the successors to the East German communists, and the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), find themselves just a few percentage points behind.

The AfD in particular is putting pressure on the larger, established parties. CDU members are thinking feverishly about how to win back support. Migration and domestic security are the two key issues. There may be no refugees at the market in Ribnitz-Damgarten, but their presence is felt. "We've done well accommodating all those who have come to us," said Christian Ehlers, a CDU candidate for state parliament.

He spoke of Osama, a Syrian refugee, who found work in the area with an agricultural collective. German farmers were at first skeptical, but that's changed since Osama started working. "He is no nice and sociable, adding a lively energy to the mix," Ehlers said.

Angela Merkel in Ribnitz-Damgarten

'Is the honey from here?' Angela Merkel at the weekday market in Ribnitz

Islamization concerns

Most residents of the state have no contact with refugees, however, and many don't want any. "You don't think we've brought terrorism to Germany by letting in asylum seekers?" was one question directed at the chancellor during a campaign appearance in Neustrelitz.

The man went on to express his concerns about Islam's presence in Germany when he sees hate being preached from mosques. "I think the majority of people don't want Islam in Germany."

Merkel couldn't and wouldn't let that stand. She admitted there was an effort underway to win migrants over to Islamic terrorism. "The phenomenon of IS terrorism is not one that came by way of refugees. It is and was here."

Moreover, she said, people living in Germany and other western countries - who were not asylum seekers - had played a part in Islamic terrorism. "Many from here have gone to Syria for training - Muslims and converts born here who are often the most diehard terrorists in the 'IS' cause."

More police, more surveillance

Angela Merkel won't change her stance on migration policy, but domestic security is a different story. The topic "plays a large role given current circumstances," she said in Ribnitz-Damgarten. "There's a big task before us in the years ahead."

The government wants a combination of better equipped security personnel and enhanced powers to counter increased threats. "More people plus more ways to intervene," Merkel said.

Angela Merkel

Merkel in Neustrelitz with her party's state parliament candidates, Vincent Kokert (l) and Lorenz Caffier

"With social media, citizens have more abilities than law enforcement," she said. This can't continue, she said. Merkel expressed her support for more video surveillance in public places, possibly to be combined with facial recognition software to track down wanted terrorists and criminals.

"We are doing everything humanly possible to assure your security," she said. "Where there are holes, we need to go back and consider new types of security."

Together in music

Whether such proclamations are enough to bring the CDU the votes it needs won't be known for another two weeks. "It's extremely important for those who want to make constructive progress that they are well positioned on election day on September 4," Merkel said in support of her party's candidates for the state parliament, and encouraged those in attendance to pass on her message.

At the conclusion of the event in Ribnitz-Damgarten, a choir sang in praise of Mecklenburg. Merkel sang along loudly, holding back her party colleague, Christian Ehlers, from interrupting the choir by speaking again. The onlookers in the market square applauded and, at least in that moment, Merkel was one of them.

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