Merkel stands firm on decision to welcome refugees as her popularity declines further

Published September 4th, 2016 - 05:00 GMT
A refugee holds a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as refugees arrive at the main station of Munich. (AFP/File)
A refugee holds a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as refugees arrive at the main station of Munich. (AFP/File)

Angela Merkel said Saturday that she has no regrets about her welcoming policy toward refugees, even as a new poll showed that fewer than half of Germans surveyed would trust her with a fourth term as chancellor.

Only 44 per cent of those questioned said Merkel is the right leader to tackle the range of issues facing the country, the survey released Saturday by TNS Emnid on behalf of the Funke media group found.

Merkel's leadership both at home and in Europe has been tested by financial crises, the rise of the far-right and Britain's recent vote to leave the European Union.

But she has said the refugee crisis represents her biggest challenge since she was sworn in as the nation's first female leader in 2005.

When asked in an interview with Bild newspaper published on Saturday whether she would handle the mass migrant influx the same way today as she did one year ago, Merkel replied: "Yes, I would."

Merkel's open-door policy, which brought around 1.1 million migrants to the country last year, created deep divisions among the electorate.

The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (Afd) has since soared in the polls, as anti-foreigner sentiment grows. The mood towards the new arrivals further soured after a spate of recent attacks, some of them carried out by migrants.

The AfD is expected to do well in a elections Sunday in Merkel's home state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

The chancellor said last week that she will decide "in due course" whether to seek another term in next year's national elections.

Despite the slumping poll numbers, Merkel still comes out ahead of potential challengers for the job.

Thirty-eight per cent of respondents said they thought Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, of the centre-left Social Democrats, could handle the range of issues facing Germany.

Horst Seehofer, the powerful conservative premier of the state of Bavaria who has recently had a testy relationship with Merkel, received 28 per cent.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, once considered a strong contender to succeed Merkel, stood at 15 per cent.

In the interview with Bild, Merkel defended a controversial EU-Turkey deal that has helped stem migration flows through the Balkans, but which has come under increased scrutiny because of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's slide towards authoritarianism.

She called the deal "the key to countering migrant-smuggling across the Aegean Sea and stabilizing the situation in Greece."

She also rejected the portrayal of her migrant policy as allowing anybody into the country, saying she only opened the border at the height of the influx in September last year, when tens of thousands walked on foot to Germany from Hungary.

It was never about "opening the border for all, but for those who had travelled far, and who were in great humanitarian need after walking to us from Hungary."

The pollster surveyed 1,006 Germans on August 31 and September 1.

© 2021 dpa GmbH

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