Germany’s new CDU leader vows tougher line on migration

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer flags tougher line to recover public trust and party voters

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies will be reviewed by her CDU successor, and chancellor presumptive, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Photograph: Reuters

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies will be reviewed by her CDU successor, and chancellor presumptive, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Photograph: Reuters


Germany’s new Christian Democrat (CDU) leader hopes to revive her party’s political fortunes with a review of her predecessor Angela Merkel’s refugee policies.

Almost six weeks after taking the reins of Germany’s largest political party, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has flagged a tougher migration line as key to winning back public trust and CDU voters who have defected to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

In response, Germany’s newest political leader has promised to give greater migration powers to German police and migration authorities – at federal and state level.

“We will look at the entire immigration question from the protection of outer borders through the asylum procedures to integration, in particular its efficacy,” she said.

Confusion over powers and competences was a continual source of problems and public frustration during and after the 2015-2016 refugee crisis, when more than one million people came to Germany.

Three years on, many in the CDU believe Dr Merkel bounced her party, and country, into following a particular migration path, and only sought retroactive backing.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, stung by criticism of her decision to keep open German borders in 2015, has warned her party that looking in the rear-view mirror and rerunning the migration crisis was “squandered time”.

But Mrs Kramp-Karrenbauer clearly disagrees, promising a “general debate, beginning with the decision of 2015 until now”.

“It would be a strange situation if we in the CDU dealt with this issue substantively and bracketed out the year 2015,” she told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

By reopening the migration debate she is risking further months of navel-gazing. But a grassroots tour of the country last year left her convinced that papering over public resentment and concerns pose a greater, long-term risk to party unity than a debate over the massive political and societal consequences of the 2015 decision – including the resulting boost to the AfD.

At a two-day party gathering in Potsdam near Berlin, the new CDU leader – and chancellor presumptive – indicated her determination to shake off the “mini-Merkel” label attached to her in recent months.

Is this a shift to the right?

Her law-and-order push is not her only plan to drive CDU support from 31 per cent back to 40 per cent. She also appears anxious to use clear language and to liberate herself from the so-called “Merkel method” of small steps and constant political corrections.

“We have to be strong in ourselves. Whoever defines themselves only through their opponents risks making their entire programme . . . dependent on others,” she said in an another veiled dig at her predecessor.

The 56-year-old has little time to waste, with substantial wins forecast for the AfD in this year’s eastern state and European elections. Polls in Saxony, which votes on September 1st, put the AfD in second place with 25 per cent support, four points shy of the ruling CDU.

But obsessing over the AfD exclusively poses dangers of their own, warned Mrs Kramp-Karrenbauer, given a surge in support for the Greens, now at 20 per cent nationally, in part at CDU expense.

Given the Greens are mentioned frequently as a potential future coalition partner in Berlin, the 56 year-old CDU leader promised to balance “necessary” climate protection and economic interests.

“We have neglected this too much of late,” she said, a nod to a spike in inner-city diesel bans and slipping German climate goals. “Not just a few have turned to the Greens and we want to win them back by giving better answers.”

Strikingly, her full-page Welt am Sonntag interview didn’t mention Brexit once.