Under-fire Merkel pledges to limit refugee numbers
Published 15/12/2015 | 02:30
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has attempted to head off rebellion within her party by declaring it is necessary to "reduce the number of refugees appreciably" to avoid Germany being "overwhelmed in the long run".
Nonetheless, she stoutly defended her controversial refugee policy to her party conference, describing it as a "humanitarian imperative".
In a defiant speech that was frequently interrupted by applause, the German chancellor cast her decision to open the country's doors to asylum-seekers as a necessary emergency response to Europe's migrant crisis of the summer.
But she said that it was now necessary to "reduce the number of refugees appreciably" to avoid the country being "overwhelmed in the long run".
Ms Merkel has seen her approval ratings plummet and faced open rebellion from sections of her Christian Democrat party as German public opinion turned against her refugee policy.
"This was a situation that put our European values to the test more than ever before. It was nothing more or less than a humanitarian imperative," she said.
But there was little sign of division as party delegates greeted her with a standing ovation last night.
She described the night in September when she decided to announce Germany would take in the asylum-seekers streaming into Europe. "Thousands of refugees were stranded in Budapest, they were setting out on foot along the road to Austria," she said.
"This was a situation that put our European values to the test more than ever before. It was nothing more or less than humanitarian imperative.
"What we have seen on television now comes literally to our door.
"The war in Syria, the barrel bombings by (the regime of Syrian President Bashar) Assad, the spread of IS (Isil) in Syria and Iraq, the fact that Libya has no functioning government, the situation in Afghanistan - all that is no longer far away but has come to us," she added.
"This is a historic test for Europe. I want, we want, Europe to answer this test."
But she said her government would now take steps to slow the influx of asylum seekers into the country.
"We want to and will reduce the number of refugees appreciably," she told delegates.
The new emphasis on cutting refugee numbers is the result of a last-minute compromise between the party leadership and rebels in the run-up to the conference.
Ms Merkel has faced growing calls to impose an upper limit on the number of refugees Germany will take, and several motions had been tabled demanding such a limit.
But her critics were persuaded to withdraw them in exchange for a motion backed by the party leadership making it official policy to reduce the refugee numbers by all legal means.
While the compromise motion is expected to pass, the size of the majority will be an important indication of the support Ms Merkel still enjoys within the party.
In a rousing speech, she recounted a remarkable year that has seen Germany stand up to Russia over the Ukraine crisis, broker a deal to keep Greece in the eurozone, and welcome hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war and deprivation in the Middle East.
Ms Merkel (61) won an eight-minute standing ovation at the end of her speech to about 1,000 CDU delegates in a conference centre adorned with posters reading "For Germany and Europe".
"She was combative, energetic, she enthused the delegates in Karlsruhe," German newspaper 'Die Zeit' wrote.(© Daily Telegraph, London)