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German Chancellor Angela Merkel won a new term on Tuesday as the leader of Germany’s main conservative party after stressing her determination to prevent a repeat of last year’s huge migrant influx and advocating a partial ban on face-covering veils. Merkel, who ran unopposed, won 89.5 per cent of delegates’ votes at a congress of her Christian Democratic Union in the western city of Essen for a new two-year term. That was short of the 96.7 percent she won in 2014, but still a solid mandate as she prepares to seek a fourth term as chancellor in next year’s German election. The vote came after a speech in which she struck a decidedly conservative note, telling members that she wants to stem the influx of migrants and restrict use of face-covering veils such as the burqa and niqab.
Those are rarely seen in Germany, and the CDU has concluded that an all-out ban isn’t constitutionally feasible. “Full veiling is not appropriate here, it should be banned wherever that is legally possible,” she said, drawing loud applause.
Germany saw about 890,000 asylum-seekers arrive last year. Many came after Merkel decided in September 2015 to let in migrants who were stuck in Hungary. The numbers have since declined sharply, but Merkel’s “we will cope” approach to the migrant crisis has provoked discord within the CDU, which has seen a string of poor state election results this year.
“A situation like the one in the late summer of 2015 cannot, should not and must not be repeated,” Merkel told delegates.
While Merkel insists that Germany will continue to take in people who genuinely need of protection, her government has toughened asylum rules and declared several countries “safe”, meaning people from there can’t expect to get refuge.
Merkel was also a driving force behind an agreement between the European Union and Turkey in March to stem the flow of migrants.
Polls show a solid lead for the conservatives, although their support is still short of the 41.5 percent they won in Germany’s 2013 election. They face new competition from the upstart nationalist Alternative for Germany party, which has thrived by attacking Merkel’s migrant policies.
“The 2017 election will be more difficult than any election before, at least since German reunification,” Merkel said, citing the “strong polarization of our society.”
Merkel told delegates that “parallel societies” won’t be tolerated and advocated banning the wearing of full-face veils used by some Muslim women where that’s possible. But she also hit out at anti-migrant and anti-government protesters who chant “We are the people!” or post hate messages on social media.
“Who the people are … is something that we will all determine, not just a few, however loud they may be,” she declared.
The EU’s longest-serving head of government has often said her aim is for Europe to emerge stronger from crises such as the debt troubles that afflicted the common euro currency. “We must, in this situation … first do everything so that Europe doesn’t emerge even weaker from the crises than when it went in,” she said.