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Merkel statement brings measured response

July 28, 2016

The response to Chancellor Angela Merkel's summer press statement within Germany has been measured. But weeks ahead of three state elections, politicians have been quick to score some points.

Angela Merkel Bundespressekonferenz
Image: Reuters/H. Hanschke

Merkel's summer press statement was brought forward a month due to the recent terror attacks in Germany. The chancellor began by defending her handling of the refugee crisis and vowed swift action against those who commit terrorism. She repeated her mantra from last year "I am still convinced today that 'we can do it' but added "I didn't say it would be easy." In a calm and measured delivery, Merkel said it was a struggle against the self-declared "Islamic State," (IS) "in my opinion, a war."

'A slap in the face'

Merkel announced adjustments to current refugee policy and a nine-point plan to increase security. Proposed measures include lowering barriers to deport refugees who do not receive asylum and creating an "early warning system" to detect radicalization among migrants.

Germany holds three state elections in September, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Lower Saxony and Berlin, ahead of federal elections in 2017.

Frauke Petry, co-leader of the AfD party, which strongly opposed Merkel's open-door policy, was quick to use social media to make a political point in opposing Merkel's policies. She suggested Merkel should admit to her "mistakes", tweeting: "Key message of the press conference: mantra-like ‘we can do this.' Admit to your mistakes already!"

Asylum seekers in Bavaria

Focusing on the two attacks perpetrated by asylum seekers in Bavaria Merkel said assailants who used their time in Germany to plan and launch attacks "shamed the country that welcomed them." Merkel added: "It makes a mockery of the aid workers who have offered help and it makes a mockery of other refugees who truly are seeking safety from violence and war," she said.

Refugees waiting for medical checks on arrival in Munich in September 2015.
Refugees waiting for medical checks on arrival in Munich in September 2015.Image: Getty Images/AFP/C. Stache

Chairman of the governing coalition party Christian Social Union (CSU) and Minister President of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer has asked the government to address public concern about security and immigration.

Commenting after the attacks, including Germany's first suicide bombing in the Bavarian town of Ansbach, he said he had been vindicated: "All our prophecies have been proved right."

After appearing to have reached an accord on the refugee issue some weeks ago, Seehofer's statements have created renewed tensions between the CSU and Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

CSU deputy chairman, Thomas Jahn, made similar comments suggesting politicians had brought a "nightmare" to Germany and Bavaria as people were worried about being the "next victims of terrorism in our country," he said. "We have to give our police more rights," Jahn said, adding "we have to send back foreigners very quickly, back to their countries, to save our lives and save security in our states."

Media response

Comments from national media have been mainly measured, such as the Stuttgarter Zeitung which stated: "The government must do everything humanly possible to ensure security in the country, but it must do so in a way that does not challenge the fundamental values of our society in question."

One international commentator coined a new term:

Vienna's Der Standard looked more to the practicalities of how to increase security within Germany as the country continues to welcome refugees. "A concession to the hardliners is the joint police and army operations in the event of a major attack," the paper wrote on its website on Thursday. But it suggested this exposed a security weakness within Germany: "Soldiers must be used because the police have reached the limit of their capacity."

The Wetzlarer Neue Zeitung said there were two signals from Merkel's statement: that Germany was not giving up its humanitarian responsibilities and that "Germany is strong enough to overcome the current challenges."

Meanwhile, the Berliner Zeitung focused on the chancellor's style of delivery, saying "Merkel remains Merkel," and that the "rhetoric of a protestant pastor's daughter remains as unadorned as the prayer room of a reformed church."

jm/kms (dpa, AFP)