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In uncommon test, Merkel to face down party rebels on refugees

BERLIN In past years, Angela Merkel has been feted like a superstar at annual meetings of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, earning thunderous ovations for defending German interests in the euro crisis and facing down Vladimir Putin more than Ukraine.

But a CDU congress in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe next week is shaping up to be a really various affair. Under intense stress from conservative allies to reduce the flood of refugees into Germany, the 61-year-old chancellor faces the largest test of her authority from inside the celebration in years.

The influential youth wing of the celebration has openly defied her in the run-up to the glitzy two-day event by demanding she agree to an “Obergrenze”, or cap on the number of asylum seekers Germany accepts – a step she has repeatedly rejected on the grounds it would be not possible to enforce.

Her Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have been pressing for a cap for months, and even some of Merkel’s personal ministers are lobbying openly for a tougher stance from the chancellor, who marked ten years in office final month and should make a decision by subsequent autumn no matter whether she will seek a fourth term in 2017.

“Merkel has in no way endured such sharp criticism from within her personal ranks since becoming chancellor,” study a front-web page editorial in conservative day-to-day newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Monday. “Below no circumstances can she allow the congress to approve a resolution on refugee policy that includes the word ‘Obergrenze’.”

Two recent developments are working in Merkel’s favor ahead of the meeting in Karlsruhe, a city which sits close to the border between Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, two of three German states that will hold elections in March.

1st, the number of migrants arriving in Germany has slowed significantly considering that late November, largely because of colder climate which has made it a lot more difficult for refugees to travel from Turkey to Greece and then up by way of the Balkans.

“It really is also early to declare a alter in the trend but it is positive,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Monday.

Also, a sharp months-lengthy slide in support for Merkel and her conservative bloc seems to have come to a halt.

An Emnid survey last weekend put the CDU/CSU on 37 %, up from 36 percent a month ago, and nonetheless 12 points ahead of the rival Social Democrats (SPD). A separate poll from Infratest dimap showed Merkel’s recognition increasing 5 points to 54 percent.

“I see a lot of support in the celebration for Angela Merkel’s course,” CDU Basic Secretary Peter Tauber stated at the weekend, dismissing ideas her authority was waning.

‘CATASTROPHIC MOOD’

But some CDU members described the mood in the celebration as abysmal.

For the initial time in years, off-the-record conversations with lawmakers in Berlin are littered with criticisms of Merkel, echoing the era ahead of she became chancellor when a cabal of conservative guys worked behind the scenes to undermine the protestant pastor’s daughter from communist East Germany.

Last week, former Saxony justice minister Steffen Heitmann became the initial prominent member of the CDU to announce he was leaving the celebration. In a letter to Merkel which was leaked to the media, he mentioned he had never felt “so foreign in my personal country”.

The atmosphere could not be much more different than it was back in 2012, when at a CDU congress in Hanover, Merkel was re-elected celebration leader by 98 % of delegates, a score so higher that German reporters jokingly likened it to the sham elections of East German leaders in the course of Merkel’s youth.

“The mood among conservative members of parliament is really catastrophic correct now,” said a single senior CDU lawmaker, declining to be named. “Merkel is entirely isolated.”

“She demands to wake up,” said one more top ranking celebration member. “Merkel’s remedy to this crisis depends on the goodwill of men and women like (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and (Turkish President Tayyip) Erdogan. It basically won’t function.”

A close aide to the chancellor, speaking on situation of anonymity, played down the extent of the discontent, estimating that only a third of celebration members were really in favor of a tougher course, by means of caps, border closures or more radical measures.

Merkel has resisted such steps, arguing that the influx have to be tackled outside Germany, through negotiations to resolve the war in Syria and by encouraging neighboring Turkey to improve circumstances for refugees there and convincing European partners to accept quotas of asylum seekers.

“Merkel will not budge on this,” the aide stated. “If there truly is a majority at the congress for caps on refugees, this would point to a difficulty at the best, but we don’t expect this.”

(Further reporting by Paul Carrel Writing by Noah Barkin Editing by Pravin Char)

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