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Renewed calls for Germany to cap its annual refugee intake at 200,000 have been rejected by Chancellor Merkel's parliamentary whip. Volker Kauder has said an upper limit would contradict the legal right to asylum.
Volker Kauder, who leads Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) deputies in Germany's Bundestag, indicated Wednesday that Chancellor Angela Merkel remained determined to integrate refugees despite last Sunday's anti-migrant electoral rebuff in Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania.
The upstart Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered the state assembly on almost 21 percent, to come second and relegate Merkel's regional CDU to third, leaving only the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) out front in the northeastern German state.
Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann (CSU), in an interview with "Die Welt" newspaper Wednesday, reiterated his demand that Germany limit its refugee intake to a maximum of 200,000, saying Sunday's result was an "alarm signal" that many citizens are not in favor of Merkel's refugee policies.
Such "discussion" was fruitless, Kauder replied on ARD public television, referring to a plethora of such calls from Herrmann and Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer since last year's arrivals in Germany of some 1 million refugees.
"There is a constitutional, statutory right to asylum. People can apply for asylum. And, therefore, the discussion does not go any further," Kauder said, noting that registered arrivals in the first half of 2016 were lower than 2015, about 222,000.
Kauder was then asked by ARD about the balance of some 80 percent of Germans who apparently do not align themselves with AfD, and about Germany's integrative work ahead.
"We can master such a task," Kauder replied, reaffirming Merkel's "we can do this" assurance of last year.
"Germany is a strong country," he added, before being asked if Merkel was worried that Berlin city-state's election on September 18 would see a similar anti-migrant swing to the populist AfD.
Since last year, Merkel's government had enacted a string of measures such as integrative training courses for asylum-seekers and boosted funding for local bodies to ensure "that integration can be successful," Kauder replied.
"Above all, we have a population, many volunteers, who are devoted, with hearty passion, to the tasks, for which I am thankful," Kauder said.
"I think, the federal chancellor is saying what she said a while ago, namely that we don't want to experience what we had last year. We want to reduce immigration. Those in situations of persecution can stay; those who come because they want a better life, [can] not," Kauder said. "That, I think, is the necessary message."
Addressing parliament, later on Wednesday, Kauder called for more honesty during debate on refugees and the how to respond to the xenophobic AfD.
Residents were aware that integration efforts did not always function, he said, and religious freedoms remained anchored in Germany's legal system.
"That applies to everyone. We are not a theocracy and we don't want to become one," Kauder said, adding that everyone was bound to ensure that state neutrality was upheld in institutions such as schools and courts.
"That's why headscarves and other attestations of religious belief have no place in such offices," he said.
Reproachful counter-accusations would not help, he said, looking ahead to next year's federal election.
Merkel's grand coalition, comprising her CDU, Seehofer's CSU and the center-left SPD, led by Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, still had time to prove that it could govern well, he added.
Coalition chaotic, finished
SPD parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann, however, warned the combined CDU/CSU not to conduct "phantom debates" that played into the hands of the AfD, which now has opposition footholds in nine of Germany's 16 regional states or Länder, but not in the federal parliament.
Opposition parties also took Kauder and Merkel to task.
"This coalition is a coalition of chaos - everyone against everyone else," Greens parliamentary leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt said.
Left party parliamentary leader Dietmar Bartsch said Merkel's coalition was "de facto finished."
ipj/sms (dpa, epd, AFD)