Merkel Moderates Liberal Migrant Policy in Order to Save Her Control of Government

German Chancellor Angela Merkel / Getty
July 3, 2018

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been acclaimed and criticized for opening Germany to hundreds of thousands of refugees during her 13-year tenure, is moderating the country's migrant policy in an attempt to maintain control of her government coalition.

The changes she has agreed to include building border camps for asylum seekers and tightening the border with Austria, the New York Times reported Monday.

It was a spectacular turnabout for a leader who has been seen as the standard-bearer of the liberal European order but who has come under intense pressure at home from the far right and from conservatives in her governing coalition over her migration policy.

Although the move to appease the conservatives exposed her growing political weakness, Ms. Merkel will limp on as chancellor. For how long is unclear. The nationalism and anti-migrant sentiment that has challenged multilateralism elsewhere in Europe is taking root — fast — in mainstream German politics.

Merkel has survived a populist wave that has swept through Europe longer than most German leaders, but the wave has now left her grip on the country vulnerable. A new rift in Merkel's party, the Christian Democratic Union, has left many members seeking Merkel's exit and a less liberal Germany.

Her own interior minister, Horst Seehofer, has threatened to resign. He wants migrants turned back at the German border if they are already registered in another E.U. country.

Issues among the C.D.U. were precipitated by the surprising strength of the Alternative for Germany political party in the country's 2017 elections, which won 94 seats in the Bundestag after previously being unrepresented. That party's nationalistic, far-right positions and rhetoric have moved other parties to the right.

Immigration into Germany is down significantly from years ago, but Germans are still unhappy with the growing resources needed to respond to migrants already in the country. Public sentiment has also been turned by high-profile assaults and rapes involving migrants.

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, director of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund, said Merkel's political capital is depleted.

"We are well into the final chapter of the Merkel era," he said.