KARLSRUHE, Germany – Germany will reduce its migrant influx, Chancellor Angela Merkel promised her conservative party Monday, insisting that she’s still confident her diplomatic efforts will work and Europe will pass the “historic test” posed by the refugee crisis.
Germany has seen about a million asylum-seekers arrive this year. Merkel has declared that “we will manage it,” but some in her conservative bloc have urged a tougher approach.
“We want to, and will, appreciably reduce the number of refugees, because it’s in everyone’s interest,” Merkel said in a confident speech to her Christian Democratic Union that was greeted with a standing ovation.
Still the chancellor — who last week was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year — stuck to her optimistic mantra, insisting that Germany can handle the migrant crisis “because it is part of the identity of our country to do great things.”
Her decision in early September to let in migrants who had piled up in Hungary was “no more and no less than a humanitarian imperative,” she added.
Merkel has made clear that she wants to reduce the influx but has resisted calls to set a specific limit on the number of refugees Germany can take, arguing that she would risk making a promise that she can’t keep. She stresses instead the importance of finding a diplomatic solution for the crisis with the rest of Europe and with Turkey, which is hosting as many as 2.2 million Syrian refugees.
Ahead of Monday’s conference, CDU leaders made some rhetorical concessions to members worried about Germany’s ability to absorb more newcomers. The motion on the crisis presented to delegates said the party is determined to reduce the refugee influx through “effective measures,” since “a continuation of the current influx would in the long term overburden the state and society.”
That was enough to persuade the party’s youth wing to withdraw a motion calling for a limit on refugee numbers and quell speculation about a possible party rebellion.
The leadership motion won delegates’ overwhelming support but still didn’t satisfy everyone. Senior lawmaker Arnold Vaatz said it sent “much too weak” a signal to migrants.
“We must create the possibility to turn back people at our borders who are evidently not politically persecuted,” he said.
In her speech, Merkel noted moves by her government to make it easier to send home people from Balkan countries such as Albania and Kosovo, and underlined German officials’ insistence there are “safe areas” in Afghanistan to which some migrants can go.
She has made little headway in persuading other European countries to share the refugee burden but insisted that “Europe so far has always passed its tests” in the end.
“We insist on European solidarity,” she said. “I know that the European wheels grind slowly, but we will get them grinding.”
Merkel doesn’t face re-election as party leader at this congress, and despite this year’s tensions still faces no serious rivals. The 61-year-old has been Germany’s leader since 2005 and her party’s biggest electoral asset for years, with popularity ratings that remain solid even though they’ve slipped amid the refugee crisis.
Moulson reported from Berlin.