DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel is under increasing pressure to reduce the numbers of migrants reaching Germany and voters are increasingly doubtful that the state can tackle the refugee crisis, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Monday.
The comments by Schaeuble, a senior member in Merkel’s cabinet and respected veteran in her center-right bloc, show growing concern among ruling politicians only six weeks before regional elections in three federal states.
More than one million migrants streamed into Germany last year, and some regions have complained that they are being overwhelmed. Concerns about crime have also mounted after men of north African and Arab appearance assaulted women in Cologne.
Speaking at a panel in the western city of Duesseldorf, Schaeuble said it was “evident” that the pressure on Merkel in the refugee crisis was bigger now than it was eight months ago.
“There are growing doubts in parts of the population that state institutions are able to master this,” he warned, adding this scepticism was likely to shake up the political landscape and new parties were set to enter more regional parliaments.
Support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has jumped amid the deepening public unease over Merkel’s open-door policy for refugees from Syria and elsewhere.
“I expect a stronger diversification (of the party spectrum),” Schaeuble said regarding the elections in the western states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate as well as in Saxony-Anhalt in the east on March 13.
Merkel has promised to “measurably reduce” arrivals this year, but has refused to introduce a cap, saying it would be impossible to enforce without closing German borders.
Instead, she has tried to convince European partners to take on 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.
But progress has been slow and EU officials have warned time is running out to agree on and also implement a joint approach before Europe’s Schengen system of borderless travel - and with it a corner piece of European integration - collapses.
Reporting by Matthias Inverardi; Writing by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Mark Heinrich