German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted to her party’s latest electoral loss by sticking to her migration policy on Monday but acknowledging, more explicitly than before, that she had made mistakes along the way.
Ms. Merkel described her center-right Christian Democratic Union’s second-place performance in Sunday’s election in the city-state of Berlin as a “very unsatisfactory, disappointing” result. She acknowledged widespread public discomfort with the influx of more than a million asylum applicants to Germany this year and last and said that she heard voters’ concerns.
“If I could, I would turn back time many, many years to be able to better prepare myself and the whole government and all those in positions of responsibility for the situation that met us rather unprepared in late summer 2015,” Ms. Merkel said at a news conference at her party’s headquarters in the German capital.
Nevertheless, Ms. Merkel—whose steadfast refusal to close the German border to asylum seekers has become a focal point in the global debate over how to treat refugees—said she would stick to her current policy. She said she was guided both by a conviction that Germany has a duty to take in people in need but also that the sort of chaotic, mass influx of people as this country experienced last yearhad to be prevented.
The processing of asylum requests and deportation of those rejected needed to be sped up, she said, while conditions in Africa, Syria, and elsewhere needed to be improved to reduce the numbers of refugees.
“No one wants this to be repeated, and I don’t either,” Ms. Merkel said of last year’s refugee influx at Germany’s borders. “We have learned from history.”
The Alternative for Germany, an upstart, anti-immigrant party that took 14.2% in Sunday’s Berlin vote, has called for the country to turn away asylum seekers at the border and to limit immigration by Muslims. Ms. Merkel’s sister party in the state of Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, has sought an annual cap on how many refugees Germany accepts and called for precedence to be given to immigrants from Christian countries.
Ms. Merkel rejected those calls in her remarks on Monday. Blocking all refugees or all Muslims, she said, would contradict not only “the German constitution and our country’s duties under international law, but also above all the ethical foundations of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany and my personal convictions.”
The center-left Social Democrats won Sunday’s election in the city-state of Berlin with just 21.6% of the vote—the worst result for any winner in a state election in German postwar history. Both the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, who came in second with 17.6%, saw their worst results in a Berlin state election and lost more than 5 percentage points compared with the previous Berlin election, in 2011.
They were followed closely by the Left Party—the successors to the East German Communists—and the environmentalist Greens. Those two parties are expected to replace the Christian Democrats in a new governing coalition under the leadership of Mayor Michael Müller of the Social Democrats, pushing the politics of Berlin to the left.
But likely the biggest change will come as the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, enters Berlin parliament. The three-year-old party came in fifth on Sunday, securing its 10th set of seats in Germany’s 16 state parliaments.
“Whoever tries to carry on the status quo here in Berlin will have a problem with us,” Georg Pazderski, the AfD’s lead candidate in the election, said Monday. “We will put our finger in the wound and we won’t allow anything to be swept under the rug.”
By Anton Troianovski at email@example.com