Support for Merkel's bloc hits 2-1/2 year low on refugee angst

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 18, 2015 9:15 AM

BERLIN (Reuters) - Support for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives has fallen to its lowest since May 2013, hurt by grassroots concerns about the ability of her government to handle a record inflow of refugees, a poll showed on Sunday.

Germany, a favored destination for migrants, expects 800,000 to a million refugees to arrive this year. Many Germans feel the country cannot cope with the record influx.

Last week, Merkel faced calls from some of her own conservatives to tighten Germany's border controls and turn away refugees arriving from Austria - pressure she has resisted.

But popular concerns are eroding support for her conservatives, who saw their support slip by one percentage point to 37 percent in a weekly survey by Emnid. As recently as mid-September, the conservative bloc enjoyed 41-percent support.

"Merkel fights for her power," ran a headline in the Bild am Sonntag mass-selling weekly newspaper.

The chancellor has favored an open-door policy, which she has pursued with the catchphrase: "We can do this!"

But she has faced pressure from Horst Seehofer, leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), to take a harder line.

Merkel has so far refused to harden her position, though she is seeking Turkey's help to stem the refugee flow.

Against the backdrop of squabbling within Merkel's conservative bloc, the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has gained strength. The Emnid poll put support for the AfD at 7 percent, up one percentage point from a week earlier.

The Social Democrats (SPD), junior party in Merkel's coalition, also gained one point to 26 percent. Support for 'others' dipped to 6 percent from 7 percent.

German towns are struggling to cope with a record influx of refugees and the AfD has attacked the government's policy, calling it "asylum chaos".

AfD leader Frauke Petry told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper around 40 people wanted to join the party each day and that its membership and supporters now totaled around 19,000 - almost as many as before a party split in July.

The head of Germany's police trade union, Rainer Wendt, joined the refugee debate on Sunday, saying the country needed to erect a fence along its border if it was serious about stemming the flow of migrants.

"If we want to conduct serious border controls, we need to build a fence along the German border," he told the Welt am Sonntag.

(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Gareth Jones)