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Merkel ally rejects pro-refugee line

July 30, 2016

Bavarian State Premier Horst Seehofer has rejected German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "We Can Do This" refugee slogan. After a meeting of his party, he said he could not adopt the phrase "as my own."

Refugee in Bavaria (c) picture-alliance/dpa/S. Kahnert
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Kahnert

"With all the will in the world, I can't use this sentence," Seehofer said Saturday after a meeting with the Bavarian government in Tegernsee. "The problem is too big for that."

The state premier was referring to the motivational mantra "We Can Do This," first coined last August at the height of the European migrant crisis, when Merkel insisted that Germany could handle a large influx of refugees.

Seehofer said there was still much work to do to manage the country's refugee crisis, after the number of asylum applications in 2015 reached more than a million, a fivefold jump on the previous year.

Merkel and Seehofer
Seehofer has long criticized Germany's migrant policyImage: Getty Images/S. Gallup

Merkel under fire

Seehofer, who leads the Christian Social Union, the sibling party to Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, said Germany had to get "a huge deal better" at handling current issues, referring to four attacks earlier this month that left 15 people dead and dozens injured.

Aside from the Munich shooting at a shopping mall, three of the other attacks were carried out by refugees - two of them in the name of the "Islamic State" militant group.

Stressing that he had no wish to start a quarrel with Merkel's party, Seehofer said it was important to look "reality" in the face, adding that the solutions to date were "too inadequate."

'Fear won't create good policies'

On Thursday, Merkel defiantly repeated her mantra, insisting that she would not bend her refugee policy following the attacks.

"Despite the great unease these events inspire, fear can't be the guide for political decisions," she said. "It is my deep conviction that we cannot let our way of life be destroyed."

But the chancellor did set out a nine-point plan to respond to the attacks, including an early-warning system for the radicalization of refugees.

Germans losing confidence

Seehofer's comments came as a new poll revealed that a minority of Germans have confidence in Merkel's "We Can Do This" mantra.

Anti-Merkel graffiti
Merkel is facing growing voter dissent over migrationImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Sauer

Internet pollster YouGov found that some 48 percent said they did "not agree at all" that Germany can manage the refugee influx and a further 18 percent said they "slightly disagree," with an overall negative answer topping 66 percent. Less than a quarter of respondents had confidence in Merkel's promise.

That means the numbers of those who agree with Merkel's optimism on refugees are at their lowest point since August 15, 2015, with her party facing a general election next year.

Meanwhile, more than a thousand demonstrators marched in Berlin on Saturday under the slogan "Merkel must go" to protest the chancellor's open-door refugee policy. A counterdemonstration drew nearly as many people.

Berlin Mayor Michael Müller called the counterprotest "a visible sign against intolerance and exclusion."

Fears of attacks

Quizzed about the perceived threat of Islamist attacks in Germany, most Germans said they were likely, but few planned to alter their lifestyles out of fear.

The separate YouGov poll commissioned for the German news agency dpa found that 75 percent think an attack is likely. But only 14 percent said they had avoided getting onto a bus or a train because of those worries in the last three months.

The survey showed that about half of Germans surveyed use public transport on a regular basis. Fourteen percent of respondents said they were so worried about terrorism they would skip attending a concert or festival.

Significantly more than half said they wouldn't let such worries influence them.

Refugee graphic

mm/rc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)