In one of the most shocking flip-flops in recent political history, German Chancellor Angela Merkel now says she will deport about 10% of recently arrived migrants — 100,000 of them.
But more than that, her tone on granting asylum to migrants has radically changed.
The beleaguered Chancellor said authorities would significantly step up the rate of forced returns as she battles to arrest an alarming slump in her popularity which has fuelled a surge in support for the far-right.
Mrs Merkel, whose decision to roll out the red carpet to migrants from across Africa and the Middle East spectacularly backfired, has taken an increasingly tough tone on immigration in recent months.
And in her toughest rhetoric yet the German leader told MPs from her party this week: ”The most important thing in the coming months is repatriation, repatriation and once more, repatriation.”
The stance marks an astonishing U-turn from the once pro-refugee Chancellor, who has been widely pilloried by critics at home and abroad for her decision to throw open Germany’s borders to millions of migrants.
Her extraordinary change of heart has been prompted largely by a series of catastrophic local election results for her ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, which was trounced by the populist Alternative fur Deutschland in both her home state and the capital Berlin.
The party’s slumping poll ratings have sparked alarm amongst her allies in both the CDU and its coalition partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU), with talk that senior officials would try to oust her.
But instead Mrs Merkel last week announced her intention to stand for a fourth term as leader of Germany, and now she is striking an increasingly anti-immigrant tone as she attempts to restore her battered reputation ahead of next autumn’s election.
Speaking at a conference of conservative MPs in Neumünster yesterday evening the Chancellor revealed that she expects 100,000 migrants to leave Germany this year, of which a third will be forcibly removed.
And employing a tough new form of rhetoric, she warned local regions to deport all migrants whose asylum applications are rejected, using force if necessary.
She warned them: “If state governments refuse to forcibly deport migrants, then of course everyone will say, ‘I will not do this voluntarily, because they will not do anything anyway’.
And in a stunning U-turn on her open borders policy, she added: ”It can not be that all the young people from Afghanistan come to Germany.”
From stoutly defending her open-borders policy as being “consistent with German and western values,” she now demands “repatriation, repatriation and once more, repatriation.”
Merkel, who announced that she will seek a fourth term as chancellor, is running scared and trying desperately to shore up her right flank. Under ordinary circumstances, the political ploy wouldn’t work.
But Merkel is in a unique position. The only alternatives to her as chancellor are even worse. Recent polls show the left-wing Social Democrats trail Merkel’s CDU/CSU coalition by 11 points — 33-22%. The next biggest vote getters are the Greens with nearly 12%. The nationalist AfD party receives almost 9%.
The left has been discredited in Germany as well as most of Europe. But the AfD is drawing considerable support away from the CDU with their nationalistic rhetoric about immigration. Merkel has been forced to backtrack on her immigration policies in order to beef up her base of support among conservatives who ordinarily couldn’t stomach the jingoistic rhetoric of the AfD but are drawn to them because they seem to be the only ones talking sense about the migrant crisis.
So the German voter has little choice: either re-elect Merkel and hope she keeps her word or hand the government to the socialists. That’s the only type of choice politics offers the voters sometimes.