Merkel rankles her own party | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 28.10.2015
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Merkel rankles her own party

Many Christian Democrats are displeased with the chancellor's course in the refugee crisis. Warnings are becoming louder that this is a crucial test for the CDU.

There is simply no end to the criticism. Chancellor Angela Merkel made sure that asylum laws were tightened, and whenever possible, she underlines the importance of deporting rejected asylum-seekers as quickly as possible. She also likes to point out how many millions of euros Berlin has earmarked for the states and municipalities to cope with the refugee crisis. But is that enough? Misgivings are getting louder, not least of all in Merkel's own party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

"This is a test for Merkel, she's being criticized in way she never has before," Oskar Niedermayer, a Berlin-based political scientist and political party researcher, told DW.

Prof. Dr. Oskar Niedermayer

The chancellor is being criticized like never before, says Oskar Niedermayer

The term 'test' sounds positively harmless in view of the mood in the CDU. At party events, Angela Merkel faces banners that call for her to step down. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who has been accredited with having used the word 'test', warns of a "dramatically bad mood" in the party.

Poll ratings have slumped. According to observers, numerous CDU members in southwestern Germany are handing in their party membership cards. Over the weekend Horst Seehofer, Bavarian premier and head of the CSU, which is closely allied to Merkel's CDU, warned that should Merkel not correct her asylum policies, the "existence of both the CDU and CSU is at stake."

No light at the end of the tunnel

People resent the chancellor's confident declaration of "We can do this." Many in the CDU feel that Merkel taking selfies with refugees outside a refugee center was naive. Angela Merkel, they say, is partly responsible for the fact that about 7,000 refugees arrive in Germany every single day. It's about time she changed course, they say.

"We expect a strong signal from Angela Merkel, we expect her to advocate reducing the flood of refugees," says Berlin lawmaker Axel E. Fischer, well-aware of the displeasure in his constituency in the Karlsruhe countryside. "The mood is at a boiling point," the CDU politician told DW. People feel as if there were no end to the surge of asylum-seekers, he warns: "It's like driving through a dark tunnel, and there's just no light at the other end!"

Angela Merkel and refugee, taking a selfie

Merkel's decisions have alienated huge numbers of people in her party and outside of it

Of course, other CDU party members - Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, for instance - feel Merkel is doing the right thing. Peter Altmaier, the chancellor's chief of staff in charge of the influx of newcomers, says there's more acceptance for, than rejection of, Merkel's policies: "No one believes that anyone else could handle the problem better than Angela Merkel." Of course, showing confidence in the head of government is part of Altmaier's job. But the further south you go - and thus closer to the border that refugees cross to reach Germany - the less confidence is noticeable in the chancellor's moves.

Shaky communication

It's not as if Chancellor Merkel weren't trying hard to bring across her message of a change of tack in refugee policies, says Niedermayer: "Merkel is doing everything in her power." But it seems as if her message never arrives, he says, adding that communication within her own party doesn't seem to work anymore. The CDU is as split on the refugee issue as the rest of society is, he says, and adds that words can't help anymore; it's time for the new measures to take hold.

The fact that a number of state elections are scheduled for next year doesn't make the dispute any easier; the party has a keen eye on its voters, and takes seriously every little hiccup in opinion polls.

But despite a smattering of media reports that the party might be ready to topple the chancellor, Merkel needn't worry. The CDU simply doesn't have an alternative to the present person at the helm.

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