Merkel seeks international support for refugee plan ahead of vote

German Chancellor Angela Merkel travels to Brussels at the end of the week for a key summit of European leaders with much at stake. Her quest for a fourth term in office could be at risk if she fails to secure EU support for her plans to end the refugee crisis.

Selling her proposal - which entails distributing refugees across the 28-member bloc - at the summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday won't be easy as a damaging rift on how to handle the migration crisis has been growing between her political allies across the continent.

Merkel, 61, has so far not spoken publicly about whether she will seek a fourth term as chancellor of the biggest economy in Europe at a general election next year, but polls back home could continue to slip as domestic confidence in her handling of the migration crisis dwindles.

A deal with Berlin's EU partners could help her fulfil her promise to the German people of "drastically reducing" the numbers of refugees crossing into Germany this year. More than 1 million refugees arrived in the country in 2015.

For the moment, the chancellor has the backing of her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) to head up the party's next election campaign.

"I think the pressure on her from the CDU to stand again as the candidate for the party is considerable," said Peter Matuschek from the Berlin-based opinion-polling company Forsa.

About 86 per cent of CDU supporters continue to back Merkel as chancellor, according to Forsa polling.

Merkel's key problem has been with the CDU's sister party, the Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU), which is also in her federal government coalition and has spearheaded criticism of her handling of the refugee crisis.

Merkel has reacted to internal critique and slumping poll support for her party by tightening Germany's asylum laws, streamlining the processes for assessing asylum applications and facilitating deportations.

Success in pushing Brussels towards a deal on refugees "would certainly be helpful to Merkel" said Matuschek.

Backing from the EU would also represent a major boost to Merkel ahead of three key state elections next month and help contain a surge in support for a new populist anti-foreigner party, known as the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has become the third-strongest party in Germany, according to opinion polls.

The chancellor's so-called European solution forms a pivotal part of her wider international solution to reduce the flow of asylum seekers to Germany and Europe.

This includes Merkel winning Ankara's support to improve conditions in Turkey so as to encourage refugees to stay there and to boost diplomatic efforts to end the five-year-long Syrian war.

She has also taken to the diplomatic stage in a bid to secure support for her international solution, including co-hosting this month's Syrian donors' conference in London as well as arguing the case for NATO joining the fight to combat people smugglers.

Despite Turkey and the EU having reached an agreement three months ago on measures to curb the number of refugees, neither side has fully implemented the accord.

The EU is also sharply divided on how to deal with the refugee crisis amid strong opposition to sharing the burden of asylum seekers from several members of the Brussels-based bloc, notably those from central and Eastern Europe.

In Syria, peace talks remain in a fragile state, despite the truce brokered on Friday.

The build-up on the Turkish border of those fleeing the Russian-backed Syrian government attacks on Aleppo now points to a renewed push by refugees to set off for Europe and Germany, which may make Merkel's goal of drastically reducing refugees arriving Germany this year a very difficult task.

Last update: Sun, 14/02/2016 - 14:34
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