Angela Merkel has taken responsibility for her party’s disastrous showing in Sunday’s Berlin state election, admitting mistakes in her handling of last year’s refugee crisis.
In an unusually self-critical but also combative speech, the German chancellor said on Monday afternoon she was “fighting” to make sure that there would be no repetition of the chaotic scenes on Germany’s borders last year, when “for some time, we didn’t have enough control”: “No one wants a repeat of last year’s situation, including me,” Merkel said.
However, Merkel did not distance herself from her decision last September to keep open Germany’s borders to thousands of refugees stranded at Budapest’s Keleti station. The mistake, the chancellor said, was that she and her government had not been quicker to prepare for the mass movement of people triggered by conflicts in the Middle East. “I wish I could turn back time,” she said.
Germany’s two governing establishment parties, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic party (SPD) on Sunday night both plummeted to the worst Berlin result in their parties’ histories, while both leftwing Die Linke and anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) enjoyed impressive gains.
On Monday, Merkel admitted she had in the past failed to sufficiently explain her refugee policy, and that her phrase “ Wir schaffen das” (“We will manage”) had “provoked” some of those who didn’t agree with her political course. Her words will be interpreted as an olive branch to the leader of her CDU’s sister party, the Bavarian CSU, who have in recent months repeatedly called on her to distance herself from the much-cited slogan.
For too long, Merkel said, she had relied on the Dublin procedure, “which, to put it simply, had taken the problem off Germany’s hands”, adding: “And that was not good”.
The 62-year-old also rebutted the CSU’s calls for a “static upper limit” to the amount of asylum seekers Germany could accept in 2016, arguing that it “would not solve the problem”. Banning people from entering the country on the basis of their religion, she said, would be incompatible with Germany’s constitution and her own party’s “ethical foundation”.
She lamented that the European Union as a whole was failing to recognise the refugee as “a global and a moral challenge”. “What we are seeing in Europe is a realisation that we are no longer leading the field when it comes to globalisation, we are not setting the pace.
“In 1990, when the wall fell, the cold war came to an end and freedom blossomed everywhere; it looked like we were on an irreversible road to victory, and that it was just up to the rest of the world to join our model. Freedom had won. It now turns out things aren’t that simple”.
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