Wednesday 12 December 2018

Merkel's allies fail to lure far-right voters with harder stand on migrants

Ms Merkel. Photo: Reuters
Ms Merkel. Photo: Reuters

Thomas Escritt in Berlin

Chancellor Angela Merkel's long-time allies in Bavaria are on track for their worst ever performance in October's state elections, according to a poll yesterday, suggesting their harder line on immigration is failing to lure voters from the far-right.

Only 40pc of voters would back the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), down from 42pc in February, a Forsa poll forecast - both startling numbers for a party that has dominated the region for half a century.

Support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party rose to 13pc from 10pc in February, making it the third largest party in Bavaria, according to the poll.

Disagreements over how to handle migrants in the European Union have widened rifts in the bloc, threatened its free-travel area and, in Germany, piled pressure on Ms Merkel's fragile coalition government.

The CSU last week gave Ms Merkel days to come up with a European agreement on resettling migrants before CSU Interior Minister Horst Seehofer starts turning refugees back at the border - an ultimatum widely seen as a bid to win over supporters from AfD.

Bavarian premier Markus Soeder also demanded a break with Ms Merkel's open-borders policy, which has seen more than a million refugees reach Germany - a call seen as a direct challenge to the 13-year chancellor's authority.

The Forsa poll, published after Ms Merkel and other EU leaders failed to come up with a bloc-wide policy on immigration at a conference in Brussels, showed the issue was still top of the agenda in Bavaria.

Three-quarters of Bavarian voters disagreed with Mr Seehofer's view that managing migration was his most important task, according to the poll.

But that did not translate into any surge in support for his party, a jolting result, said analysts.

"They (CSU) were historically Europe's most effective people's party, drawing in voters all the way from the right to the centre-left," he said.

Only once before has the party had to govern in coalition in Bavaria.

The Social Democrats (SPD), with whom Ms Merkel's conservative bloc governs in Berlin, have become increasingly critical of the in-fighting to their right, portraying the CSU's collision course with Ms Merkel as recklessness.

Popular

Meanwhile, Ms Merkel enjoyed a lead over hard-liners in a popularity poll in Bavaria, suggesting she still has room to manoeuvre in a government rift over border security.

Voters identifying as backers of the Christian Social Union gave Merkel 61pc support, compared with 56pc for state premier Mr Soeder, according to a Forsa poll for broadcaster RTL published yesterday.

Statewide, Ms Merkel had 43pc to Mr Soeder's 38pc.

The poll gives a measure of support to Ms Merkel in the breakdown between the CSU and her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which threatens to tear apart their long-standing party alliance and is putting her three-month-old coalition government at risk.

"With their ruthless campaign against the chancellor, the CSU leadership isn't just hurting the union" between the CDU and CSU, Forsa director Manfred Güllner said in the statement. "They're hurting their own party."

Mr Seehofer has vowed to use his law-enforcement powers to send back certain asylum seekers at Germany's borders if Ms Merkel doesn't reach agreements with EU partners this month. Ms Merkel rejects the border proposal, setting up a potential rupture that could leave her without a majority in parliament.

Mr Seehofer himself is under pressure from Mr Soeder and other Bavarian leaders, who are trying to outflank the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party ahead of the state election in October.

Yet 75pc of those polled in Bavaria said that there are other problems "that are just as important or even more important" than migration, according to the Forsa poll of 1,003 people.

Ms Merkel, meanwhile, yesterday won the strong backing of her Christian Democrats to continue discussions with other EU states on how to better control migration into and within Europe.

Merkel's Bavarian allies have threatened to defy her wishes and start turning away people at the German border who have already registered for asylum in other EU states, a dispute that threatens her ruling coalition.

CDU general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the CDU had agreed it was necessary to control and reduce migration to avoid a repeat of the 2015 situation, when hundreds of thousands of migrants arrived in Germany, but declined to speculate on what would happen if the CSU rejected Ms Merkel's proposals at a meeting next Sunday.

She criticised the party's failure to share its immigration master plan more widely.

Irish Independent

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