Merkel on the rack for her open door policy
ANGELA Merkel was last night facing a fierce backlash over her ‘open door’ migration policy that allowed more than a million refugees into Germany last year.
As police launched a frantic manhunt for the driver of the truck that ploughed into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, opponents wasted no time in laying the political blame for the carnage at Mrs Merkel’s door.
While it is not yet known if the driver was a migrant, the far-Right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party said it held the Chancellor ‘personally responsible for what had happened’.
Even allies conceded the attack could derail Mrs Merkel’s campaign for next year’s election and take the debate about her migration policy to a ‘new dimension’.
Mrs Merkel acknowledged it would be ‘particularly sickening’ if it turned out the atrocity was carried out by a refugee who took advantage of Germany’s generosity.
Visiting the scene in Berlin, she said: ‘This is a very difficult day. I, like millions of Germans, am outraged, shocked and deeply saddened by what happened.
‘There is a lot we still don’t know about this act but we must assume it was an act of terrorism. I know that it would be especially hard for us to bear if someone who had asked for asylum turned out to have done this. It would be particularly sickening for the many Germans who daily work to help refugees and for those who really do need our shelter.’
Last night there were signs the Berlin attack could have repercussions for EU border policy. Robert Fico, Slovakia’s prime minister, said: ‘The cup of patience is beginning to spill over and Europe’s public will rightfully expect rather stronger (anti-migration) measures.’ Polish premier Beata Szydlo said: ‘Europe must take effective action to protect its citizens.’
John Bolton, who is tipped to be Donald Trump’s deputy secretary of state, said Mrs Merkel had exposed Germany and other countries ‘to the risk of terrorism’.
Anti-immigration politicians across Europe seized on the crisis. Marine Le Pen, of France’s far-Right National Front, claimed it was time to end the arrival of refugees when ‘we know that Islamist terrorists are involved’ in the Berlin attack.
Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch far-Right Party for Freedom, posted a mocked-up photo online of Mrs Merkel with blood on her hands and face.
Mrs Merkel was already under pressure over a policy many of her own supporters now accept was a disaster. In the summer of 2015, she threw open Germany’s borders, saying there were ‘no limits’ on the number of asylum seekers the country would take. The move came despite fears the Islamic State terror group would use the migrant crisis to flood Europe with extremists. Controls were brought back two months later, but the policy is thought to have led to more than one million migrants entering Germany last year.
Critics claim the influx fuelled a wave of sex attacks in Cologne and other cities. Earlier this month a 17-year-old Afghan was arrested for the rape and murder of a 19-year-old medical student in Freiburg.
Voters angered by the migrant row punished Mrs Merkel in regional elections in September. Afterwards, the Chancellor said: ‘If I could, I would turn back time by many, many years.’
Mrs Merkel remains the favourite to win in next year’s general election as she seeks a fourth term in office. But the AfD party, which has campaigned against immigration, made it clear it would seek to exploit public anger over the Berlin attack.
Marcus Pretzell, a prominent party member, described the Berlin victims as ‘Merkel’s dead’. Party chairman Frauke Petry said Germany was ‘no longer safe’, adding: ‘We cannot be under any illusion. The milieu in which such crimes are able to thrive has been imported here systematically over the past one and a half years.’
Stephan Mayer, Germany’s home affairs spokesman and a key ally of Mrs Merkel, said it was ‘too early’ to know if the attacker exploited the ‘open door’ policy. But he admitted there was an ‘uncontrolled and unregistered’ influx of refugees last year, adding: ‘This was a period of not controlling our borders.’
British terror expert Anthony Glees, of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham, said Mrs Merkel would face ‘enormous repercussions’ if the attacker turns out to be a refugee.
‘If I could, I would turn back time’
Blood on the streets: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, circled, at the scene yesterday, where she laid a flower, below