As Angela Merkel’s term as German chancellor hits its twilight, one of the major contenders running to succeed as the leader of the Christian Democrats is Friedrich Merz. The conservative has triggered an objection by questioning Germany’s constitutional guarantee of asylum.
Germany’s “Grundgesetz” (Basic Law) was embodied to compensate for the World War II Nazi crimes, assuring asylum to all “politically persecuted.” In the past, it was a much sorted pledge, when only few of the Soviet dissidents from the Cold War were covered. However, at present millions of people seek asylum in Europe from poverty and war.
On Wednesday evening on the campaign trail in Thuringia, the 63-year-old Friedrich Merz said that this might have to change.
“We must be prepared to discuss the constitutional right to asylum if we seriously want a European immigration and refugee policy,” he said amidst the applause from local party delegates.
Friedrich Merz said that the constitutional guarantee of Germany in the European Union was “unique,” implying that Berlin could be obligated to accommodate refugees cast off under a common European asylum policy. The union is alienated over how it should manage the inrush of migrants — including several fleeing the civil war in Syria.
After facing a wave of criticism from across the political dimensions, Merz appeared on Thursday to backtrack.
He said, “Of course, I do not question the fundamental right to asylum, because we make politics out of Christian responsibility and against the background of German history.”
However, he continued saying that the subject of migration and asylum could only be resolved in a European context at the moment.
Although constitutional provisions granting asylum are rare, all the other EU countries have analogously strong legal commitments to guarantee asylum to the persecuted— including via international conventions that have constitutional force.
Merz’s remarks were also implied to castigate Angela Merkel, whose decision to admit over a million Syrian war refugees in 2015 muddled up the European politics and helped generate a far-right surge across the continent.
In leadership polls of Christian Democratic (CDU) party members, Friedrich Merz is competing against Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who has been dubbed as “mini-Merkel” for her resemblances in policy and style. The winner will be in pole position to lead Germany and the economic powerhouse.
Merz’s proposal was however rejected by Kramp-Karrenbauer, who said that it risked undermining a principle that was central to the CDU.
She told a Bild livestream event, “Abolishing the basic right of asylum or introducing limits so that it will, in effect, not exist in the way our mothers and fathers thought of it, is for me incompatible with what the CDU stands for and with the legacy of (former chancellor) Helmut Kohl.”