Weakened Merkel embarks on tough German election campaign
ESSEN, Germany – Germany's ruling conservatives may have re-elected Angela Merkel as their leader once again, but they have also sent her into next year's election campaign with a stern warning ringing in her ears.
The German leader was chosen as head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) on Tuesday, December 6, with her lowest score since becoming chancellor, and a day later delegates defied her with a hardline push against dual nationality rules.
With that mixed verdict from the party rank and file as she bids for a fourth term at the head of Europe's biggest economy, Merkel is facing her toughest election campaign yet, weakened by her liberal refugee policy that has polarized public opinion.
While 89.5% is hardly a score to be scoffed at, it missed the 90% of CDU delegates seen as a crucial threshold.
"It shows that she has lost confidence but has not fully regained it," said Spiegel Online.
Rheinische Post daily agreed, saying that "it is clear that this chancellor is no longer strong enough to simply use 'you know me' to win the 2017 elections," referring to a previous Merkel slogan.
"That attitude, which helped her in the 2013 (general election) campaign, almost led to her doom in the refugee crisis. For too long, she has trusted her party and voters to simply follow her," it said.
'Losing to the right'
Merkel's decision last September to let in people fleeing war has become her Achilles heel, as public resentment mounted after more than a million asylum seekers have arrived in Europe's biggest economy since the start of 2015.
The displeasure has been manifested in setbacks for her party in 5 consecutive state elections this year, as the upstart populist AfD recorded a surge of support on the back of their campaign railing against migrants.
"We're winning few voters from the left, but we're losing a lot to the right," said delegate Eugen Abele, accusing Merkel of positioning the party too far left and giving room for the AfD to stake a claim to the party's right.
Merkel herself has laid out a tough stance on immigration and even called for a partial ban on the Islamic full-face veil, as she pleaded with her delegates for help in her fight for a new term.
But for some, it did not go far enough.
On Wednesday, December 7, the junior wing of the CDU mounted a small rebellion and forced through a demand for dual nationality be scrapped for German-born children of foreigners.
The hardline measure set the party on a collision course with its junior coalition partner the Social Democrats (SPD) ahead of elections next year, and underlined the challenge faced by Merkel to rein in the more conservative wing of her party.
Allowing dual nationality was a key demand of the SPD during negotiations with Merkel's conservatives after the last elections in 2013 that resulted in a hard-fought deal on teaming up in a left-right government.
"I personally think it would be wrong to turn back on this," a displeased Merkel said in response to the motion.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere warned during a heated debate on the issue against tearing up the compromise.
"We don't want to reverse that," he said, adding that it was also a blow for children of foreign origin at a time when the country is struggling with integration issues.
The move mainly affects Turkish migrants, many of whom had come to Germany in the 1960s and 1970s to work but have stayed on and started families here.
Before 2014, their children had to give up either their parents' citizenship or their German one by the age of 23.
The decision quickly drew a rebuke from the SPD, with Justice Minister Heiko Maas saying that reversing the rule "would be a step backwards for integration".
SPD chief Sigmar Gabriel also derided the move, saying it showed the discord within the CDU.
"Either they have picked the wrong chairwoman or Madame Merkel has the wrong party," he said.
The Green party's parliamentary chief Anton Hofreiter accused the party of pandering to the conservative right with the new stance.
"The CDU is leaving the liberal middle ground and shifting right," he told Die Welt daily. – Rappler.com