Eyeing re-election, Germany's Merkel takes tougher tone on migrants

ESSEN, Germany (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives toughened their tone on integrating migrants on Wednesday, passing a resolution on tackling forced marriage and honour killings, and cracking down on dual citizenship.

German Chancellor and leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union party CDU Angela Merkel leaves the CDU party convention in Essen, Germany, December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

A day after Merkel called for a ban on full-face Muslim veils “wherever legally possible”, her Christian Democrats (CDU) endorsed that message and stressed the values they want the 890,000 migrants who arrived in Germany last year to adopt.

Merkel, who implored the party on Tuesday to help her win a fourth term in office at federal elections next year, told N-TV at the end of a two-day CDU party conference that individual criminals among the migrants must be found and prosecuted.

But she was quick to say: “We must not draw conclusions about the whole group of people seeking protection.”

Neighbouring Austria on Sunday rejected a candidate vying to become the first freely elected far-right head of state in Europe since World War Two, halting - at least temporarily - the wave of populism sweeping Western democracies. [nL5N1DZ05V]

In a sign of how much Germany’s “Willkommenskultur”, or welcoming culture, has faded since the 2015 influx, Jens Spahn, a deputy finance minister and senior CDU member, said legal barriers for deportation must be lowered.

“Those who are not refugees, who are not fleeing from Iraq or Syria from war and persecution, must return to their homelands - and that needs to be done consistently,” he told Deutschlandfunk radio.


Ahead of next year’s election, the CDU is trying to mend fences with its Bavarian ally, the Christian Social Union (CSU), which is tougher on immigration, to try to claw back support lost to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

But Merkel is reluctant to move too far from the centre.

In a sign the CDU base is moving to her right, party members adopted a motion to oblige young people who grow up in Germany to foreign parents to decide by the age of 23 whether they will take German nationality or that of their parents’ home country.

The CDU leadership had urged members to reject the motion, which went back on a compromise reached in 2014 with the Social Democrats (SPD), junior party in Merkel’s ruling coalition, allowing those concerned to take two passports at 23 years old.

“Such a step backward into the past will not take place with the SPD,” Katarina Barley, secretary general of the centre-left Social Democrats, told the Funke media group. “The CDU has swung to the right at its party congress,” she said.

Reacting to the vote, Merkel showed she is not in lock step with her party base by insisting the 2014 double-passport agreement with the SPD would not be abandoned before next year’s election and that campaigning should not focus on the issue.

She was re-elected chairwoman of the CDU by 89.5 percent of the delegates present at the conference in the western city of Essen, where she was first elected party chairwoman in 2000.

Her score was down from 96.7 percent two years ago but above her lowest winning score of 88.4 percent in 2004, and daily newspaper Bild dubbed the winning margin “Merkel’s little victory”.

An Emnid poll on Sunday showed support for the CDU and CSU at a 10-month high of 37 percent, 15 points ahead of the SPD.

Seeking to claw back ground lost to the AfD, CDU members at the conference adopted a measure calling for forced marriage and honour killings to be “prevented and prosecuted rigorously”.

German police this week detained an Iraqi migrant for suspected rape only days after an Afghan refugee was held in a separate rape and murder case. [nL5N1E028Z]

Germany has registered some 1,475 child marriages, according to interior ministry figures collected since last year’s influx of migrants. The Justice Ministry said its latest statistics showed there was a conviction for forced marriage in 2014, but that did not necessarily reflect the scale of such crimes.

Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Louise Ireland