March 18, 2016 / 2:24 PM / 2 years ago

Germany's Merkel sees uptick in approval for refugee policy as influx eases

BERLIN (Reuters) - Popular support for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy on migrants rose to a slim majority this month, a poll showed on Friday, as a huge influx of asylum-seekers seen in 2015 has slowed to a trickle.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the lower house of parliament, Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

The survey for public broadcaster ZDF suggested that for the first time since December, the majority of Germans - 55 percent - think their country can handle the number of migrants arriving, indicating that a public backlash which had appeared to threaten Merkel’s re-election chances next year was easing.

But the great majority of those polled doubted that a nascent European Union deal with Turkey under which it would take back migrants who have poured into the EU from its territory would do much to alleviate the migrant crisis.

About 80 percent did not regard Turkey as a reliable partner on refugee issues and said EU leaders should not hold back criticism of alleged human rights abuses by Ankara for the sake of help with migrants.

The Politbarometer poll found approval for Merkel’s “open-door” refugee policy, which saw more than 1 million people stream into Germany last year, rose by six percentage points to 53 percent in March.

In three German state elections on Sunday, the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party significantly increased its share of the vote due to public upset over migrants, while Merkel’s mainstream conservatives slumped.

However, the Politbarometer poll - conducted this week, after the elections - found national support for the conservatives down just one percent to 35 percent. On a scale of -5 to +5, Merkel’s personal popularity rose to 1.8 from 1.1 in February, according to the representative poll of 1,205 people.

The pollsters did not offer possible reasons for Merkel’s apparent rebound in voters’ eyes.

However, the immediate sense of crisis has eased somewhat as migrant arrivals have slowed markedly due to unilateral border closures by countries along the main migration corridor northwards through the Balkans from Greece into western Europe.

Merkel was also spearheading EU efforts to strike an accord with Turkey at a summit in Brussels on Friday that would allow for a return of migrants from Greece to Turkey in exchange for financial and political concessions to Ankara.

German commentators also said the state election results could not be seen as an unequivocal bashing of Merkel, noting her conservatives held onto power in one state, Saxony Anhalt, while Social Democrats and Greens who back her migrant policy won in two others, Rhineland Palatinate and Baden Wuerttemberg.

However, many Germans do want the migrant issue fixed quickly and public concerns that the country could not absorb another human tide like last year’s - prompted when Merkel said Germany’s doors were open to all those fleeing Syria’s war - sent voters in droves to the AfD in Sunday’s elections.

When Politbarometer asked people which party they would vote for in the 2017 federal election, 12 percent chose the AfD, giving the party its highest ever national poll rating.

Reporting by Tina Bellon

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