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Merkel's successor says Germany's 2015 refugee influx must not happen again

Jill Petzinger
Jill Petzinger, Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Christian Democratic Union leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer speaks at her party’s conference on migration, integration, and security topics in Berlin. Photo: Retuers/Annegret Hilse

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the new leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) said on Monday that the huge influx of refugees who came to Germany in 2015 was “a humanitarian exception.”

Speaking at a party workshop on immigration, security, and integration, Kramp-Karrenbauer said, “We must make sure nothing like it ever happens again, that we have learned our lesson.”

The new conservative party boss, known as AKK in Germany, has begun distancing herself from her predecessor Angela Merkel. She’s especially taken a tougher line on migration than the chancellor.

CDU proposals for a new immigration framework include an “early warning system” to alert the country to another asylum crisis, the processing of refugees on EU’s outer borders, and the expulsion of refugees if they commit a crime punishable by more than 90 days in jail. Another suggestion was to make Germany a less attractive destination for asylum-seekers by curbing social benefits.

Kramp-Karrenbauer was asked during an interview with public broadcaster ARD on Monday night if she would close the German border in the event of huge numbers of refugees arriving again, replying, “that would be thinkable as a last resort.”

Many in the party blamed Merkel’s 2015 open-door refugee policy for the CDU’s plummeting popularity, not just in the federal elections, when it lost some million voters to the anti-immigrant, right-wing Alternative for Germany, but also in several state elections last year. A poor showing in the state of Hesse in October prompted Merkel to announce her resignation as CDU chair in an effort to help the party. In December, Kramp-Karrenbauer narrowly won the leadership vote.

Merkel herself did not attend the CDU-CSU immigration workshops this week, which may have made it easier for her protégé to put forward her ideas.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, who could become the next chancellor of Germany in 2022, must walk a bit of a tightrope at the moment. While she and Merkel are allies, the new CDU boss needs to take concrete steps to unite the divided party, many of whom want a new, stricter German migration policy.