October 18, 2015 / 1:26 PM / 2 years ago

Support for Merkel's bloc hits new low on refugee angst

BERLIN/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Support for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives has fallen to its lowest since May 2013, a poll showed on Sunday, as her coalition partner said Germany must win over refugee skeptics or else risk “planting social explosives in our nation”.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, October 15, 2015. REUTERS/Delmi Alvarez

Germany, a favored destination for migrants, expects 800,000 to a million refugees to arrive this year. Many Germans feel the country cannot cope with the record influx.

Last week, Merkel faced calls from some of her own conservatives to tighten Germany’s border controls and turn away refugees arriving from Austria - pressure she has resisted.

But popular concerns are eroding support for her conservatives, who saw their support slip by one percentage point to 37 percent in a weekly survey by Emnid. As recently as mid-September, the conservative bloc enjoyed 41-percent support.

“Merkel fights for her power,” ran a headline in the Bild am Sonntag mass-selling weekly newspaper.

Despite angst in her party ranks about the tide of refugees flowing into Germany, Merkel’s position is strong, in part because she has no obvious challenger. [ID:nL8N12E24H]

Guenther Oettinger, a German European Commissioner, nonetheless warned fellow conservatives against a leadership debate in Germany.

“We are suffering from Europe hardly having any more stable governments,” he told young conservatives in Hamburg.

The leader of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD), junior partner in Merkel’s ruling coalition, said the government must “take with us” people who worry about the migrant influx.

“If we don‘t, these fears will empower people who in the end only want to cook up their inhuman soup,” SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel said at the opening of the IG Metall trade union’s congress in Frankfurt.

“If we play the poor people who come to us against the poor people who are already here, then we are planting social explosives in our nation,” he added.

Highlighting popular concern about the refugee influx, the head of Germany’s police trade union said the country needed to erect a fence along its border if it was serious about stemming the flow of migrants.

OPEN DOORS

Merkel has so far resisted pressure from some in her own party to harden her position on refugees, though she is seeking Turkey’s help to stem the refugee flow. [ID:nL8N12I0H9]

Against a backdrop of squabbling within Merkel’s conservative bloc, the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has gained strength. The Emnid poll put support for the AfD at 7 percent, up one percentage point from a week earlier.

The SPD also gained one point to 26 percent. Support for ‘others’ dipped to 6 percent from 7 percent.

German towns are struggling to cope with a record influx of refugees and the AfD has attacked the government’s policy, calling it “asylum chaos”.

AfD leader Frauke Petry told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper around 40 people wanted to join the party each day and that its membership and supporters now totaled around 19,000 - almost as many as before a party split in July.

Separately, government officials took aim at anti-Islam group Pegida after a candidate running for mayor of Cologne was stabbed in the neck on Saturday in an attack police said appeared to be motivated by her support for refugees. [ID:nL8N12H0AX]

“Pegida lowers the threshold for words turning into acts,” said Justice Minister Heiko Maas ahead of a rally Pegida plans to hold in Dresden on Monday to mark its first anniversary.

Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke; Editing by Gareth Jones

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