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Merkel ally calls for refugee course correction

Kate BradySeptember 6, 2016

After the CDU's electoral defeat in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, tensions in the CDU-CSU union have intensified. Bavarian State Premier Horst Seehofer has blamed Merkel's refugee policy for the AfD's success.

Horst Seehofer and Angela Merkel
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Hirschberger

In Tuesday's edition of the daily newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung," Horst Seehofer, the Bavarian state premier and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), said Sunday's "disastrous" election result was a consequence of Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy.

Seehofer has been a long-time vocal critic of Merkel's open-door policy since the chancellor allowed some 1 million refugees to cross Germany's borders last year.

The Bavarian state premier reiterated on Tuesday that his "multiple prompts for a course correction" had not been not accepted.

"The situation is highly threatening for the union," Seehofer said, adding that people don't want "this Berlin policy."

"Confidence [in the government] is dwindling rapidly," said Seehofer. "People just don't understand how policy is made in Germany," he added, demanding that Merkel shift her focus to domestic policy.

Coalition suffers setback

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania suffered a stinging backlash on Sunday as the upstart opposition right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party entered its ninth regional assembly since 2013.

The CDU garnered 19 percent of the vote - its worst ever score in the ex-communist state, which is also home to Merkel's parliamentary constituency.

Merkel's federal government coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), also suffered a major setback.

While the center-left SPD managed to garner a better-than-forecast 30.6 percent in Sunday's election, it too lost several percentage points of its voter base to the AfD.

Merkel vows to 'win back trust'

The AfD has targeted Merkel's CDU and the SPD ever since the chancellor decided a year ago to keep Germany's borders open to refugees arriving from war zones such as Syria and Iraq via Hungary and Austria.

Merkel defended her government's handling of the refugee crisis on Monday, vowing to "win back trust" from German voters.

"I am very unsatisfied with the outcome of the election," Merkel told reporters on the sidelines of the G20 summit in China. "Obviously it has something to do with the refugee question. But I nevertheless believe the decisions made were right and we have to continue to work on them."

According to CSU General Secretary Andreas Scheuer, Seehofer intends to present a comprehensive list of demands for refugee policy at a meeting of top party leaders of the CDU-CSU union and SPD on Sunday.

"We need to agree an upper limit on the reduction of immigration as quickly as possible," Scheuer told Tuesday's edition of the "Passauer Neue Presse."

AfD looks ahead to 2017

Founded in 2013, the AfD now holds seats in nine of Germany's 16 state parliaments. With a membership base of 24,000, the AfD now has its sights set on next year's federal election.

AfD veteran strategist and deputy chairman Alexander Gauland said last weekend's result had great symbolic power ahead of the 2017 general election, and would add impetus to Berlin city-state's election on September 18.