German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political allies said an emerging European Union deal with Turkey to halt the flow of migrants will take time to work, signaling that the outcome may fail to limit losses projected for her party in state elections this weekend.
Reiner Haseloff, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union who’s seeking a second term as state premier of Saxony-Anhalt on Sunday, said voters’ measure of success is whether European leaders can stop “irregular or illegal immigration” to Germany. The EU summit that ended early Tuesday was only one step along the way, he said.
Merkel helped broker a deal in the early hours of Tuesday in Brussels that she said represented “a breakthrough if it becomes a reality.” While the plan included measures to stop the traffic of people across the Aegean Sea to Europe, key details including “legal” resettlement of Syrians from Turkey to Europe and additional financial help for refugee projects in Turkey remains to be worked out before the next EU summit on March 17-18.
“If the chancellor’s goal was to show that she’s regained control over the refugee crisis, it didn’t happen,” Ulrich Sarcinelli, a political scientist at the University of Koblenz-Landau, said by phone. “Voters know very well that the chancellor hasn’t exactly promoted cosying up to Turkey in the past. If she’s now placing all her hopes on an alliance with Turkey, it hurts her credibility.”
Newspapers in Germany were similarly skeptical. “Here’s what the EU has (not yet) agreed with Turkey,” said the influential Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on its website.
“Some are already talking about a breakthrough in the refugee crisis,” Bild, Germany’s most-read daily, said in a commentary. “But as is so often the case, the devil is in the details.” Bild has been supportive of Merkel’s open-doors refugee policy.
Faced with the biggest threat to her decade in power, Merkel is enlisting Turkey to limit the flow of war refugees from Syria and migrants from countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. At the summit, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made his country’s most serious offer yet to stop the traffic of people across the Aegean Sea to Greece and on to Germany as part of a package that included requests for an additional 3 billion euros in humanitarian aid, visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens and a speedup of its bid to become an EU member.
The accord may be too late to yield a tangible reduction in migrant numbers before Sunday’s German ballots. Polls suggest across-the-board losses for the Christian Democrats and a surge in support for Alternative for Germany party, which campaigns against immigration.
“Merkel had no choice” but to call the extraordinary summit, given her need to show results amid “dramatic” declines in her party support’s in the two biggest states in play, according to Sarcinelli.
Three State Votes
Heading into the state ballots, Merkel’s Christian Democrats trail in Baden-Wuerttemberg, a southwestern state that is home to Mercedes and Porsche and which they lost to the Greens five years ago, and are running neck-and-neck with the governing Social Democrats in neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate. In Saxony-Anhalt in the east, polls suggest the CDU may win the most votes, but with the AfD poised to take one-in-five ballots cast.
Alluding to the strains on local and state governments after about 1 million asylum seekers arrived in Germany last year, Haseloff said on ARD television Tuesday that voters want to see “a functioning government all across Germany” and a halt to the influx.
“That’s what people are using as the measure of whether the chancellor, the federal government and the European Union are able to tackle the issue,” said Haseloff, who holds an advisory seat on the CDU’s executive board. “We have to remind people that this is about their home state’s future, not about issues over which we in Saxony-Anhalt don’t have complete control.”
Armin Laschet, a deputy national chairman of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said on Deutschlandfunk radio that negotiations with Turkey need time and a deal at the next EU summit is within reach.
“These are problems you can’t just solve by pressing a button,” he said.