Merkel refuses to alter migration course after election thrashing

Election losses for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) in three German state elections will not change her course of action in the refugee crisis, a government spokesman said on Monday.

Seen as a gauge of popular opinion on the chancellor's migration policies, Sunday's elections in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt brought losses for Merkel's CDU and delivered major gains to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), which entered all three state parliaments.

Despite the negative outcome for her party, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Merkel would stay the course. "The government will continue to pursue its migration policies with full force, both domestically and internationally," he said.

Merkel, who has resisted border closures and other unilateral measures to reduce the number of migrants entering Germany, is pushing for a European solution to the crisis with the support of Turkey.

About 1 million asylum seekers came to Germany in 2015, partly due to Merkel's open-border approach, sparking widespread discontent and mobilizing droves of former non-voters in Sunday's polls.

German politicians are divided over whether the election outcome weakens Merkel's position ahead of Thursday's summit of EU leaders.

Guenther Oettinger, an EU commissioner and an ally of Merkel, said the chancellor's European solution had a chance of success despite Sunday's election outcome. "This is why bringing about a change of course now would be wrong," Oettinger told Funke media group.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that 80 per cent of voters in Sunday's polls had chosen political parties that "advocate a European solution to the refugee crisis and support the chancellor's course."

Horst Seehofer, a critic of Merkel and leader of her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), said that the election outcome - a "tectonic shift in German politics" - could not result in inaction.

"It cannot be possible that the answer to such an election outcome is that everything will continue as before," he said ahead of a CSU meeting in Munich. When asked whether Merkel was still the right person to lead Germany, he answered: "Yes."

Parties including Merkel's CDU and her centre-left Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners were holding meetings on Monday to discuss the fallout from the elections.

The AfD, which won 24.3 per cent in Saxony-Anhalt, where the far-right has long been active, took votes from the established parties and mobilized millions of former non-voters - a sign of how deeply the refugee crisis is polarizing Germany.

A reduction in the combined vote of the CDU and the Social Democrats (SPD) - the two major parties that have long dominated Germany's political ladnscape - raises the prospect of political splintering and the formation of potentially unstable three-party coalitions.

Malu Dreyer, SPD premier in Rhineland-Palatinate, has already signaled she may form a coalition with the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) - traditionally a Merkel ally that has been severely weakened by the emergence of the AfD.

Responding to the election results on Monday, Dreyer said: "The European solution [to the refugee crisis] has to come, and it has to come fast."

Merkel was due to respond to the results at a press conference later Monday.

Last update: Mon, 14/03/2016 - 13:53
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