Angela Merkel's party, down in polls, weighs German 'border centres'

Berlin: A senior figure in Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party has proposed setting up "border centres" along the frontier with Austria to speed up the repatriation of those asylum seekers deemed unqualified to stay.

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Julia Kloeckner, leader of Merkel's Christian Democrats in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, was careful to style her proposal as a "Plan A2" rather than a "Plan B", adding that the Chancellor's push for a European solution to a large influx of asylum seekers into the continent was still right.

"We want to complement it," she wrote in a paper setting out her position, a copy of which Reuters obtained. In the paper, Ms Kloeckner proposed that: "On the German-Austrian border, border centres will be set up."

The proposal, endorsed by the Christian Democrats' (CDU) secretary general, highlights the frustration in Merkel's party with the slow progress in achieving a European Union-wide solution to the refugee crisis, which is straining the infrastructure of many German municipalities.

Germany attracted 1.1 million asylum seekers in 2015, leading to calls from across the political spectrum for a change in its handling of the number of refugees travelling to Europe to escape war and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere.


Growing concern about Germany's ability to cope with the influx and worries about crime and security after assaults on women at new year in Cologne are weighing on support for the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

An Emnid poll for the newspaper Bild am Sonntag showed support for the CDU/CSU bloc down 2 percentage points at 36 per cent from the previous week. The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) gained one point to 10 per cent. Ms Merkel's coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), gained a point to 25 per cent.

Ms Merkel, despite appearing increasingly isolated over her open-door policy on refugees, has resisted pressure from some conservatives to cap the influx, or to close Germany's borders.

Instead, she has tried to convince other European countries to take in quotas of refugees, pushed for reception centres 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.

CDU secretary general Peter Tauber presented Ms Kloeckner's proposals as underscoring the government's course thus far.

"The proposed border centres are a development of existing structures," he said. "The ball is now with the Social Democrats. They can't always say what doesn't work, and must fulfil their responsibility as a governing party."

In 2015, Ms Merkel's conservatives met fierce resistance from the Social Democrats over plans for transit zones at border crossings to process refugees' asylum requests, and had to deny such centres would resemble concentration camps.

Ms Kloeckner, who has quietly positioned herself as a leading candidate to replace Ms Merkel when she finally leaves office, also called for Germany to support Italy, Greece and Turkey in processing asylum applications at registration centres in those countries.

These beefed-up registration centres and the border centres along the frontier with Austria would deal with the repatriation of unsuccessful asylum applicants, easing pressure on German municipalities, she said in her position paper.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, a CDU member, said German police were turning away 100 to 200 people at the border each day who did not qualify for asylum.

"We are offering security and protection to those people who are fleeing war and persecution," he told the Bild am Sonntag. "But that also means that those who are not seeking this protection will be turned away at the border."


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