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Merkel to drop 'We can do this' mantra

September 17, 2016

The chancellor has said the phrase that has come to define refugee policy has turned into a "simple slogan." Merkel also insisted that dropping the phrase does not signal a change of approach when it comes to migrants.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

Chancellor Angela Merkel's much-repeated rallying call "We can do this" set the tone for her policy of welcoming and integrating the more than one million people who arrived in Germany last year.

Indeed, Merkel's chancellorship may be defined by these symbolic words - words that proved unifying to some and divisive to others.

However, these are now words that she won't be repeating.

Merkel said on Saturday she will drop the phrase in the belief that it has become a mere catchphrase.

In an interview with the financial weekly "Wirtschaftswoche," Merkel said the phrase had become "a simple slogan, an almost meaningless formula."

"I sometimes think this phrase was a little overstated, that too much store was set by it - to the extent that I'd prefer not to repeat it," she said.

When asked if this meant that she was distancing herself from the underlying meaning phrase, the chancellor gave a definite "No."

"It is part of my work as a politician, because I am convinced that we are a strong country, and that we will come out of this phase even stronger," she said.

However, the chancellor acknowledged that "we can do this" also "provoked" some of the German public, "which of course was not the idea," she said.

Merkel first said the phrase after she outlined her migrant policy to the German parliament in August 2015.

Discourse for dissent

The phrase, along with its underlying policy, proved divisive. Europe's largest migrant crisis since the Second World War has put immense pressure on Merkel and the her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), whose approval ratings have fallen significantly.

Prominent members of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the CDU's Bavarian sister party, have attacked what they call her "Berlin politics." CSU leader and Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer said in July that he could no longer embrace the "We can do this" call.

"The situation is far too problematic for that," he said.

Even within her own party, officials interpreted the phrase as a characterization of her stubbornness.

Merkel has called on her coalition partners, the CSU and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), to resist deviating from her open-border policy. However, her party suffered a significant defeat against the upstart anti-mass-migrationAlternative for Germany (AfD) party in the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania regional elections.

The AfD is now looking to win around 25 percent of the vote in the upcoming Berlin state elections and once again send a message that it seeks to make an impact in next year's national elections.

Merkel has yet to announce whether she will run for a fourth term as chancellor.

dm/sms (dpa, AFP, WirtschaftsWoche)