October 25, 2015 / 1:10 PM / in 2 years

Support for Merkel's conservatives at three year low on refugee crisis

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a Ukrainian-German economic conference in Berlin, Germany, October 23, 2015. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

BERLIN (Reuters) - Support for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives has dropped to its lowest level in more than three years, a poll showed on Sunday, as her allies in the state of Bavaria stepped up criticism of her handling of the refugee crisis.

Horst Seehofer, head of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria, the entry point for most migrants coming to Germany, said that the existence of the conservative bloc was at stake if she did not “correct” her asylum policy.

The Emnid poll put Merkel’s conservatives down 1 percentage point at 36 percent, its lowest since Sept. 2012, with the opposition Greens gaining 1 point to reach 10 percent.

The other main parties remained unchanged with the Social Democrats (SPD), who share power with Merkel, at 26 percent and the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has made gains in recent weeks, at 7 percent.

Merkel has been criticized by some conservatives for opening up Germany’s borders to Syrian refugees, a move they say has spurred more migrants to come. Critics, especially in Bavaria, want to introduce limits on the number of refugees allowed to enter the country.

Germany expects at least 800,000 refugees this year, almost 1 percent of the population. As towns struggle to look after migrants and tackle right-wing attacks on shelters, her mantra that Germany will cope looks optimistic to many voters.

On top of pressure from Seehofer’s CSU, veteran German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who media pointed out in weekend articles has always nurtured ambitions to be chancellor, also warned of a dire atmosphere within the party.

Der Spiegel weekly quoted Schaeuble as saying at a meeting of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) that the mood was “dramatic” and the party faced a crucial test if the latest measures to ease the situation in Germany did not help.

A new law to speed up asylum procedures and deportation for migrants from southeastern Europe took effect on Saturday and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported Germany wants to increase repatriations to Afghanistan.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen defended Merkel.

“Despite all the understandable disquiet... the basis of the conservative bloc is very well aware that no-one can better steer Germany and Europe through this difficult time than the chancellor,” she told the Funke group of newspapers.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers; editing by Clelia Oziel

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