June 24, 2018 / 1:03 PM / 4 months ago

Migration fight erodes support for German conservatives, far-right AfD gains

BERLIN (Reuters) - Divisions in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc have weakened public support for her “grand coalition” and pushed the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to its highest ratings, a poll published on Sunday showed.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives to take part in an emergency European Union leaders summit on immigration, in Brussels, Belgium June 24, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

The poll conducted by Emnid for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper showed Merkel’s bloc at 31 percent, down two percentage points from the previous poll. The AfD added one percentage point to reach 16 percent, its highest rating in an Emnid poll.

The centre-left Social Democrats, junior partner in the ruling coalition, remained unchanged at 18 percent.

Merkel’s conservatives are embroiled in an internal dispute over whether to turn back migrants at the German border who have registered elsewhere in the European Union.

The issue has divided longtime conservative allies and poses the most serious challenge yet to Merkel’s leadership, raising questions about a possible collapse of her coalition a little more than 100 days after it took office.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, of the conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), which is preparing for regional elections in Bavaria in October, has threatened to defy Merkel’s wishes and order police to turn back asylum seekers unless she secures a broader EU deal on distributing migrants more evenly.

SOLUTION “CAN BE FOUND”

Volker Kauder, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) who leads the conservative bloc in parliament, expressed regret that some political leaders were questioning the future of the alliance, but said it was too soon to speak of its demise.

“The parliamentary group continues to exist and it is capable of acting,” Kauder told broadcaster ZDF. He said he still believed a solution could be found on the migration issue.

Boris Pistorius, interior minister of the northern state of Lower Saxony, accused the Bavarian conservatives of exaggerating the extent of the migration problems.

Markus Soeder, a top CSU leader and Bavaria’s premier, plans to carry out the electoral campaign in Bavaria without involving Merkel, a first in the 70-year history of the CSU, according to the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

But Soeder has invited Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose ruling coalition includes the far-right FPO party, to participate in Bavarian election events, the newspaper said.

Emnid asked 2,336 people between June 14-20 which party they would support if a national election occurred now.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Andrew Bolton

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