EghtesadOnline: Chancellor Angela Merkel defended her handling of Germany’s refugee crisis and said she’ll serve a full four years if re-elected, as her main opponent steps up his campaign to unseat her.
At a televised town hall-style event, Merkel, 63, was confronted on Germany’s diesel emissions scandal by a Volkswagen owner who said the government was too lenient on automakers. The chancellor’s rebuttals to similar criticism by Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz are a recurring campaign theme, though with five weeks until the election, polls suggest it isn’t hurting her for now, according to Bloomberg.
“I am angry” at German automakers, Merkel told the studio audience in Berlin on Sunday. “We were really duped in that they exploited the loopholes.”
Schulz, Merkel’s main challenger in the election on Sept. 24, plans to start his 40-stop campaign on Monday in Bremen, an SPD-ruled city since the end of World War II. Support for the chancellor’s Christian Democrat-led bloc rose 1 percentage point to 39 percent while the Social Democrats stayed at 24 percent, according to a weekly Emnid poll for Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
Merkel headed out on the campaign trail last week and quickly faced disruption by anti-immigration demonstrators, a reminder that the refugee crisis that sent her popularity plunging in 2016 remains a residual risk. Support for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party declined one point to 7 percent in the Emnid poll, which would make it the smallest faction to win seats in parliament.
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“If I’m elected once again and win the people’s trust, then I’ve said very clearly, four years,” Merkel told the audience.
Those engaging with Merkel included a mulled-wine vendor who witnessed the attack on a Berlin Christmas market in December, a 75-year-old retiree from Munich who said her monthly pension didn’t go far enough and an Iranian refugee who said his asylum claim was still being processed after eight years. At one point, Merkel took a spot in the audience to talk to a woman who complained of her tax disadvantages as a single mother.
Asked whether she would handle the refugee influx two years ago differently if given the chance, she said she wouldn’t. She renewed her pledge that the uncontrolled influx of 2015 mustn’t be repeated.
That stance has helped align her with Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer, whose Christian Social Union is the sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union but took a harder line on refugees, demanding a cap on migration that Merkel rejected.
With the national election looming , Seehofer backed off on Sunday, signaling that a migration cap is no longer a condition for joining another Merkel-led government.
“The situation has changed,” he told ARD television. “We have significantly less migration than when I used this term.”
Merkel also addressed Germany’s deteriorating relations with Turkey, reproaching President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for urging Germans not to vote for mainstream parties that are “enemies of Turkey.”
“It’s completely unfortunate that the Turkish president calls on German citizens of Turkish origin not to vote,” Merkel said. “I invite everybody to cast a ballot in a free country.”