Ger­man Chan­cel­lor draws battle lines ahead of 2017

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel will out­line her battle strat­egy yes­ter­day to counter a wave of pop­ulism that has con­sumed key al­lies abroad, as she launches into cam­paign mode for next year’s elec­tions. Merkel, who has led Ger­many for 11 years, last month con­firmed she would run for a fourth term but ac­knowl­edged that the elec­tion would be “more dif­fi­cult” than any other she has con­tested. Party faith­ful from her cen­tre-right Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union (CDU) gath­er­ing for a two-day an­nual con­gress in the western city of Essen are ex­pected to over­whelm­ingly re-elect Merkel as party chief, ral­ly­ing be­hind her bid to stay in power.

Dur­ing the last party vote in 2014, Merkel gar­nered 96.7 per­cent of sup­port and this week’s bal­lot will be closely scru­ti­nized for any sign of dis­sent. “I’m count­ing on an hon­est re­sult,” she told pub­lic broad­caster ARD, as na­tional me­dia sug­gested that any score be­low 90 per­cent would be a slap in the face. Cru­cially, she will also be grilled on how she plans to stop the pop­ulist anti-Is­lam AfD from fur­ther erod­ing the party’s sup­porter base. The CDU has suf­fered set­backs in five con­sec­u­tive state polls as vot­ers pun­ish Merkel for her lib­eral refugee pol­icy, with more than a mil­lion peo­ple seek­ing asy­lum in Ger­many last year.

There have been ques­tions about whether the 62-year-old has fresh ideas to of­fer in a world up­ended by Brexit, the sur­prise elec­tion of Don­ald Trump and the de­par­ture of Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter fol­low­ing a crush­ing ref­er­en­dum de­feat cham­pi­oned by pop­ulists. There is con­cern within CDU rank and file, be­cause Merkel has said she “will stand again, with­out say­ing how she will change her poli­cies in the fu­ture”, Hans Pist­ner from the Thuringia re­gional gov­ern­ment told re­gional broad­caster MDR.

Close the gaps

Merkel’s CDU and its Bavar­ian sis­ter party CSU se­cured a de­ci­sive win of 41.5 per­cent at the last elec­tion in 2013 - its best re­sult since na­tional re­uni­fi­ca­tion in 1990, on the back of strong ap­proval for her tough stance on aus­ter­ity for debt-stricken EU na­tions. Three years on, there are rum­blings of dis­con­tent-even within her own party-fol­low­ing her Septem­ber 2015 de­ci­sion to let in refugees flee­ing war in most­lyMus­lim na­tions, in a move that has deeply po­lar­ized Europe’s big­gest econ­omy.

Al­though Merkel has since moved to slow the in­flux, in­clud­ing through a highly con­tro­ver­sial deal with Turkey, the AfD has gained a firm foot­ing as a protest plat­form for dis­grun­tled vot­ers. The AfD now en­joys around 12 per­cent sup­port, while at the last gen­eral elec­tion it fell short of the five-per­cent thresh­old to en­sure rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Merkel’s sup­port­ers will take heart from a re­cent sur­vey show­ing that two in three Ger­mans ap­prove of her bid to stand again. But with nine months or more to go be­fore the elec­tions, CDU deputy chair Ju­lia Kloeck­ner said the party must not leave any gaps for the AfD to ex­ploit. “If we only talk about health­care for refugees, but not about the short­age of doc­tors in the coun­try, then the mood will sour,” she warned in an in­ter­view with Spiegel mag­a­zine.

Cir­cum­vent­ing the boss?

The daily Sued­deutsche Zeitung said Merkel’s lock on re-elec­tion as party leader should not be viewed as an in­di­ca­tion that there is no dis­sent. It said that in the back­ground, key mem­bers were start­ing to think be­yond her. “That’s par­tic­u­larly ob­vi­ous in terms of refugee poli­cies,” it said, not­ing that “much to Merkel’s dis­ap­point­ment, the mo­tion put to the con­gress has been tough­ened up by the party’s fed­eral chiefs”.

These in­cluded prais­ing the de­ci­sion by gov­ern­ments in the Balkans to shut down a route used by asy­lum seek­ers-some­thing that had pre­vi­ously been sharply crit­i­cized by Merkel. And oth­ers want to go fur­ther, with CDU deputy chair­man Thomas Strobl lead­ing the charge through a de­mand to ease the de­por­ta­tion process for re­jected asy­lum-seek­ers. “We can’t just put a no­tice for de­par­ture in peo­ple’s hands and then not fol­low through with the law,” he said, warn­ing it would “sub­stan­tially erode” pub­lic con­fi­dence in the rule of law.— AFP

ESSEN: Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel ges­tures af­ter ad­dress­ing del­e­gates dur­ing her con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union (CDU) party’s con­gress in Essen, western Ger­many yes­ter­day. Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel launches into cam­paign mode for elec­tions tak­ing place in 2017. — AFP

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