German chancellor Angela Merkel is coming under increasing pressure from her own right-wing supporters to scale back an open-door immigration policy.
Earlier this week, Merkel took the immigration portfolio away from her interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, after he had voiced support for stricter controls.
On Wednesday, 34 local officials from the ruling CDU party wrote to Merkel, saying her immigration policy was “not in line with either European or German law, nor does it reflect the CDU’s program.”
That night, Merkel appeared on a special television broadcast to defend her approach. “We can do this,” she said when asked to respond to accusations that she has no plan to cope with the high number of asylum seekers.
Merkel’s government expects around 800,000 people will apply for asylum in Germany this year. Unofficial estimates put the figure closer to 1.5 million.
Merkel also said that other European countries should step up to help receive the unusually high numbers of immigrations.
Hundreds of thousands are seeking refuge across Europe this year from the civil wars in Libya and Syria. But around 40 percent of asylum seekers in Germany come from poor Balkan states like Albania and Kosovo instead. Most are turned back.
At a closed-doors meeting of European People’s Party leaders in Brussels, Merkel reportedly censured Eastern European governments that have resisted taking in more immigrants.
“The refugees won’t be stopped if we just build fences,” she said, obviously referring to the barrier Hungary has put up on its border with Serbia in an attempt to keep people out. “I’ve lived behind a fence for long enough.”
We Eastern Europeans — I’m counting myself as an Eastern European — we have seen that isolation doesn’t help.
Merkel grew up behind the Iron Curtain in the former East Germany.
Polls show that anti-immigrant sentiment is strongest in the east. But it’s the chancellor’s conservative sister party from the wealthy border region of Bavaria has assumed a prominent role in opposing her policy.
Horst Seehofer, the party leader and state premier in the south, said Bavaria might have to implement emergency “self-protection” measures if the federal government is unable to stem the flow of people arriving in the country.
The widely-read tabloid Bild asked its readers on its front page, “Who is right?” — Merkel or Seehofer?
Seehofer earlier said Hungary’s right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orbán, deserved German support for “securing” the outer borders of the European Union.
The Social Democrats, the other party in Merkel’s ruling coalition, have voiced disquiet as well. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel warned that welcoming attitudes toward newcomers could change dramatically if local governments are forced to choose “between caring for refugees and renovating a school or financing a swimming pool.”