German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday called for a burka ban in Germany and pledged never to repeat her widely-denounced “open-door” refugee policy of 2015 as she launched her bid to win a historic fourth term as chancellor.
In an astonishing U-turn, the German chancellor told her conservative CDU party conference that wearing the burka should be outlawed 'wherever that is legally possible'. It comes after the 62-year-old stressed her determination to ensure there is no repeat of last year's huge migrant influx as she seeks a fourth term as chancellor. And she pledged that the law of the land stood above 'any honour codes or Sharia.'
Mrs Merkel's critical speech came as tensions continue to rise following the brutal rape and murder of a 19-year-old medical student Maria Ladenburger in Freiburg by an Afghan teenage refugee.
Ms Merkel announced last month that she will seek a fourth four-year term as chancellor in an election expected next September. Her springboard to that run is re-election as the chairwoman of the CDU. The vote in Essen, where she was first elected chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union in 2000, offers a test of Ms Merkel's standing with members. Aside from unhappiness about her migrant policy, some members are grumbling about what is perceived as a wider drift to the left during her 11 years as chancellor.
She vowed to defend the European Union and warned that Britain would not be allowed to “cherrypick” in Brexit negotiations, and condemned the West’s failure to prevent the violence and suffering in Aleppo as a “disgrace”.
But it was her call for a burka ban that won the loudest applause from party delegates. “The full veil must be banned, wherever legally possible. Showing your face is part of our way of life,” she said. “Our laws take precedence over honour codes, tribal customs and sharia.”
Speaking ahead of a vote that saw her re-elected party leader with 89.5 per cent of delegates’ votes, Mrs Merkel sought to distance herself from her decision to open Germany to asylum-seekers at the height of last year’s migrant crisis. “We have said again and again, a situation like the late summer of 2015 cannot and will not be repeated,” she said.
She pledged that not all of the more than 1m migrants who flooded into the country last year would be allowed to stay, and that those who are will have to integrate into German society. The speech was not the dramatic U-turn it appeared. Mrs Merkel distanced herself from the refugee policy a few months ago, and her party proposed a limited burka ban earlier this year.
Tellingly, Mrs Merkel called only for a ban “where legally possible”: most experts agree the German constitution prohibits a blanket ban. But it was a speech that was calculated to appeal to her party base after a year that has seen it lose support to the far-Right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has campaigned on an anti-immigrant and anti-Islam platform.
“When I ran for the first time, I said I want to serve Germany. I have tried so far to the best of my knowledge and conscience,” she said. “In times like these, you must help me.” She was given an 11-minute standing ovation, longer than in previous years, but the fact more than 10 per cent of the party voted against her re-election was a sign of discontent behind the united front.
Mrs Merkel was standing unopposed, and could have expected a higher tally. Two years ago, she won with 96.7 per cent, and in 2012, with 97.9 per cent. By the end of next year, Angela Merkel will be the only remaining politician of a group that once made up Europe's centrists.
She goes into next year’s elections as the “last man standing” of a generation of Western liberal leaders, after 2016 saw the downfall of David Cameron, Francois Hollande and Matteo Renzi. Barack Obama effectively handed the torch to her in a final visit to Germany as US president last month. She made no attempt to gloss over the setbacks of 2016, saying the year had made the world “weaker and more unstable”.
Throughout her career, Mrs Merkel has proved adept at moving away from unpopular policies and winning back voters when it matters. A poll for Bild am Sonntag newspaper at the weekend found support for her party was up two points to 37 per cent, its highest level since January and far ahead of her closest rivals. Her current coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), are second on 22 per cent while the far-Right AfD are at 12 per cent.
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