Angela Merkel has promised to “tangibly” reduce the number of refugees and migrants entering Germany in an attempt to quell a rebellion in her conservative ranks, but rejected calls to impose a cap on immigration.
At a gathering of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, Merkel said Germany would pursue a range of measures to stem the flow of asylum seekers, expected to reach about 1 million this year.
“Even a strong country like Germany would in the long run be unable to cope with such a large number of refugees,” the chancellor said in a one-hour long speech. “We want to tangibly reduce the number of refugees arriving. With an approach focused on the German, European and global level, we will succeed in regulating and limiting migration.”
However, she said Germany had a “moral and political” duty as Europe’s top economic power to continue to help desperate people, particularly those from war-ravaged Syria.
“We will live up to our humanitarian responsibility,” she said. “The refugee crisis is a historic test for Europe, which I am convinced it will pass. Even if everything we do in Europe is interminably arduous”.
After weeks of increasingly vocal dissent from the right wing of the CDU, many commentators had expected the party conference in Karlsruhe to be the stage for a showdown between Merkel and her critics. Instead, Merkel emerged from the gathering largely unchallenged, with an overwhelming majority of delegates voting in support of her roadmap for dealing with the refugee crisis. Only two delegates voted in favour against her proposals.
She drew loud applause as she repeated her rallying cry: “We can do it.” A nine-minute standing ovation was brought to a close by the chancellor herself telling the 1,000 delegates that “we still have work to do”.
Having effectively squashed any rebellion over upper limits on arrivals before the party conference, Merkel still sought to address lingering concerns over the long-term consequences of the refugee crisis.
“Those who seek refuge with us also have to respect our laws and traditions, and learn to speak German,” she said. “Multiculturalism leads to parallel societies, and therefore multiculturalism remains a grand delusion.”
Her comments echoed a similar statement from 2010, when Merkel said multiculturalism had “utterly failed”.
Merkel appealed to the party’s sense of history, saying that the same strength that allowed it “to rebuild from the rubble of the war to create the economic miracle, and to go from division to a reunification country”, would get Germany through the refugee crisis.
Merkel condemned rich countries for failing to properly fund the UN refugee agency and World Food Programme, saying this was unforgivable.
Before an EU summit this week, Merkel said she was banking on a multi-pronged approach to cut refugee numbers, urging stronger protection for the bloc’s external borders, support for Turkey to host refugees long-term and a long-shot bid for a distribution scheme among EU member states.
She touted a range of measures currently being undertaken in Germany, including extending a list of safe countries of origin, expediting repatriation of rejected asylum seekers and increasing staff levels to help process applicants.
Germany is divided roughly down the middle by the refugee issue, with a poll on Friday showing 49% opposed Merkel’s stance while 47% supported it. The CDU is polling at about 39%, 2.5 points off its performance in the 2013 general election and far ahead of the SPD on 24%.