Berlin: On the eve of regional elections set to show her Christian Democrats losing support, Chancellor Angela Merkel said today that refugees had a “duty” to integrate themselves into German society.
“We expect refugees to accept these offers (of integration). It is a duty and not just a possibility,” said Merkel, who has been under increasing pressure after throwing open Germany’s doors to newcomers, with 1.1 million refugees — many of them Syrians — seeking asylum in Europe’s biggest economy last year alone.
She was speaking in the southern town of Haigerloch on the final day of campaigning, with her comments reported by German news agency DPA.
More than 12 million voters are due to elect three new regional parliaments for the southwestern states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, as well as eastern Saxony-Anhalt in the so-called Super Sunday polls.
It will be the government’s first major test at the polls since last year’s record influx and disgruntled voters are expected to seize on the opportunity to hit the ruling coalition where it hurts.
In its traditional Baden-Wuerttemberg fiefdom, opinion polls show the Christian Democrats losing out to the Greens, with support for the party seen sliding by around 10 percentage points compared with the previous vote five years ago.
In Rhineland-Palatinate, Merkel’s party is almost neck-and-neck with the Social Democratic Party, although in Saxony-Anhalt, the CDU retains a big lead.
In a bid to justify her open stance on migration despite considerable opposition at home and abroad, Merkel has campaigned relentlessly to ensure her party maintains support in the face of a populist advance on the right and left.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere meanwhile warned voters not to heed the siren call of the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), saying its call to close the borders surge “harms our country”.
“The AfD has no political concept and no competence in terms of finding solutions” to Germany’s problems, he told Die Welt daily.
Merkel insisted in midweek the AfD’s fortunes would ebb as the refugee crisis was gradually resolved.
Exit polls in tomorrow’s elections are due around 1700 GMT.