Merkel to face key test on refugees at party conference


Berlin (dpa) – Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to defend on Friday her handling of Germany’s refugee crisis when she addresses the annual congress of her key political ally, the Christian Social Union (CSU), which has led criticism of her policy on asylum seekers.

Bavarian Premier and CSU leader Horst Seehofer set the tone for the party conference by again demanding Merkel impose limits on the numbers of asylum seekers entering Germany shortly before the chancellor was due to speak at the congress in Munich.

“However you look at it, there is no other way than to introduce a limit or a ceiling,” said Seehofer whose party is the arch-conservative ally of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Merkel’s decision in September to open Germany’s borders to refugees fleeing conflict in Africa and the Middle East has triggered tensions between the chancellor and CSU leaders.

The chancellor has repeatedly rebuffed calls from CSU leaders to place an upper limit on the number of refugees entering Germany, which in recent weeks was about 10,000 a day.

As a result, the party congress is likely to represent a major test of her political authority with her refugee policy having emerged as one the congress’ central themes.

Bavaria has emerged as a frontline line state as thousands of asylum seekers streaming across its border each day after making the trek north from southern Europe.

Since the start of the year more than 900,000 refugees have been registered in Germany, according to Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann.

The key motion to be considered by the about 1,000 delegates attending the CSU congress calls for a fixed quota to be placed on the number of refugees entering Europe’s biggest economy. However, the motion does not set out a specific number.

Seehofer has in the past described Merkel’s open-arms policy for refugees as “a mistake.”

State governments and volunteers have also complained that their resources have been stretched to the limit by the influx of newcomers.

The CSU conference is to be followed next month by the annual conference of Merkel’s CDU, where her stance on refugees has also come under fire from sections of the party.

In the aftermath of last Friday’s deadly terrorist attacks on Paris, the fight against global terrorism is also expected to be high on the CSU convention agenda.

The CSU party conference opened with a minute’s silence for the victims of the attacks.

Many analysts see the tensions between Merkel and the CSU as contributing to the recent slide in support in opinion polls for the CDU-CSU bloc.

More recently, Merkel has focused on measures to curb the stream of refugees into the country as well as ensuring that those without a legitimate claim for asylum are returned to their homelands as quickly as possible.

A key concern for the CSU is that some of its voters could be drawn away from the party to the anti-foreigner Alternative for Germany, which has picked up in opinion polls as the refugee drama has unfolded.

Seehofer has insisted that the CSU delegates give Merkel what he said should be a decent welcome.

However, party observers say the anger among CSU members over the chancellor’s decision to open Germany’s borders is expected to ensure that she receives a very cool welcome and possibly several unfriendly whistles from the delegates.