BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel looked ever more isolated over her open-door policy on refugees on Saturday as it emerged that the leader of her party’s Bavarian allies suggested this week she had become impervious to other people’s views on the issue.
“Chancellors in an advanced stage of their office only believe in themselves,” Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), told a party meeting on Thursday during a discussion of Merkel’s refugee policy.
Germany attracted 1.1 million asylum seekers last year, leading to calls from across the political spectrum for a change in its handling of the flood of refugees coming to Europe to escape war and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
But Merkel, in her third term in office since coming to power in 2005, has resisted domestic pressure for border closures and a refugee cap.
With three closely watched regional elections looming in March, Merkel is facing the toughest spell of her chancellorship over her handling of the refugee crisis.
In the last week, polls have shown sliding support for her conservative bloc, 44 members of which wrote to her urging a change of course, and respected President Joachim Gauck said there was nothing immoral about limiting the refugee influx.
Austria announced such a limit on Wednesday - a move Merkel described as “not helpful”.[nL8N1544LR]
Participants at the CSU’s closed-door meeting confirmed Seehofer’s comment, which was also reported by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Saturday.
Seehofer, whose state of Bavaria is the point of entry into Germany for most refugees, is under intense pressure from local municipalities to press the federal government to stem the flow of arrivals and has been a thorn in Merkel’s side on the issue.
Germany’s next federal election will be held in the autumn of 2017. Merkel has not yet said whether she will seek a fourth term, although some media have started to speculate about her future. [nL8N1540TW]
After Germany attracted 1.1 million asylum seekers last year, Merkel’s transport minister - a CSU member - has urged her to prepare to close the country’s borders to stem the influx. She has resisted such calls.
Instead, she has tried to convince other European countries to take in quotas of refugees, pushed for reception centers to be built on Europe’s external borders, and led an EU campaign to convince Turkey to keep refugees from entering the bloc.
After meeting Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday, Merkel reiterated her call for a European solution and promised Turkey 3 billion euros ($3.24 billion) in EU aid to cope with more than 2 million Syrian refugees in the country.
Germany’s mass-selling daily Bild was aghast at the deal.
“How much does this smile cost us?” ran a headline in its Saturday edition next to a picture of Merkel shaking hands with a beaming Davutoglu. “Turkey wants much more!” it added.
Merkel said on Wednesday the EU would reassess the refugee crisis at a mid-February summit, giving herself just weeks to plot a new course acceptable to her allies at home. EU leaders said this week the bloc could unravel without a common approach.
German integration commissioner Aydan Ozoguz, a member of the Social Democrats (SPD) that rule in coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the CSU, told the FAZ: “If Europe doesn’t function, the crisis can hardly be solved.”
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Editing by Hugh Lawson