Germany will reduce its refugee influx, Chancellor Angela Merkel promised her conservative party on Monday, insisting that she's still confident her diplomatic efforts will work and Europe will pass the "historic test" posed by the refugee crisis.
Germany has seen about a million asylum seekers arrive this year. She has declared that "we will manage it," but some in her conservative bloc have urged a tougher approach.
"We want to and will appreciably reduce the number of refugees, because it's in everyone's interest," she said in a confident speech to her Christian Democratic Union that was greeted with a standing ovation.
Still, Merkel — who last week was named Time magazine's person of the year — stuck to her optimistic mantra, insisting that Germany can handle the refugee crisis "because it is part of the identity of our country to do great things."
Her decision in early September to let in refugees who had piled up in Hungary was "no more and no less than a humanitarian imperative," she added.
Merkel has made clear that she wants to reduce the influx but has resisted calls to set a specific limit on the number of refugees Germany can take, arguing that to do so would risk making a promise that she can't keep. She stressed instead the importance of finding a diplomatic solution for the crisis with the rest of Europe and with Turkey, which is hosting as many as 2.2 million Syrian refugees.
Before Monday's conference, Christian Democratic Union leaders made some rhetorical concessions to members worried about Germany's ability to absorb more newcomers. A motion on the crisis presented to delegates said the party is determined to reduce the number of refugees entering the country through "effective measures," since "a continuation of the current influx would in the long term overburden the state and society."
That was enough to persuade the party's youth wing to withdraw a motion calling for a limit on refugee numbers and quell speculation about a possible party rebellion.
The leadership motion won delegates' overwhelming support but still didn't satisfy everyone. Senior lawmaker Arnold Vaatz said it sent "much too weak" a signal to refugees.
"We must create the possibility to turn back people at our borders who are evidently not politically persecuted," he said.
In her speech, Merkel noted moves by her government to make it easier to send home people from Balkan countries such as Albania and Kosovo and underlined German officials' insistence that there are safe areas in Afghanistan where some refugees can go.
She has made little headway in persuading other European countries to share the refugee burden but insisted that "Europe so far has always passed its tests" in the end. "We insist on European solidarity," she said. "I know that the European wheels grind slowly, but we will get them grinding."
She doesn't face re-election as party leader at this congress, and despite this year's tensions still faces no serious rivals. Merkel, 61, has been Germany's leader since 2005 and her party's biggest electoral asset for years, with popularity ratings that remain solid even though they have slipped amid the refugee crisis.
The Associated Press