BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that Germany should ban full-face veils, and that it would not tolerate any version of Shariah law.
Chancellor Angela Merkel told her party members that Germany should ban full-face veils â€œwherever legally possibleâ€ and that it would not tolerate any application of Shariah law over German justice.
Accepting her partyâ€™s nomination as its candidate for another four-year term, the chancellor used the moment to broaden her stance on banning the veil, trying to deflect challenges from far-right forces that have made some of their deepest gains since World War II.
In welcoming nearly one million asylum seekers to Germany a year ago, Ms. Merkel emerged as a powerful voice for tolerance across a Europe gripped by anxiety over waves of arriving migrants and fears of terrorism.
Now, as anti-immigrant parties have advanced at the expense of mainstream parties, including her own, Ms. Merkel tried a tricky balancing act between holding fast to Western values and tilting farther right to avoid being outflanked by populist challengers.
In the 80-minute speech, she repeated the same catalog of beliefs in freedom and equal treatment she had made as an implicit criticism of President-elect Donald J. Trump, but also stiffened her position on the veil and suggested that Germany would be more cautious in welcoming migrants in the future.
In a clear nod to criticism that the state had appeared to lose control over its borders, the chancellor opened her speech to the annual conference of her Christian Democratic Union with a promise that such a situation â€œcannot, may not and should not be repeated.â€
But the biggest applause lines concerned law and order, including a promise that Shariah law would never replace German justice â€” a problem that has barely arisen but has been cast as a specter by the far-right party Alternative for Germany.
The loudest cheers came for her line on Shariah, followed by her statements on face coverings. â€œHere we say, â€˜Show your face,â€™â€ Ms. Merkel told the party. â€œSo full veiling is not appropriate here. It should be prohibited wherever legally possible.â€
She did not say what circumstances that included. But the language seemed more expansive than she had previously used.
Last summer, when debates broke out across Europe over the so-called burkini swimsuit, Ms. Merkel and other German leaders said they favored a partial ban on full veils.
At that time, Ms. Merkel had said that â€œfrom my standpoint, a fully veiled woman scarcely has a chance at full integration in Germany.â€ But rather than push any new law on face coverings, she and other government officials seemed to prefer the application of common sense. Faces cannot be covered, for instance, when going through a security check at airports.
Her statements on Tuesday appeared to expand that definition, though clearly some of her partyâ€™s members wanted more.
Jenovan Krishnan, 25, the leader of the Ring of Christian Democrat Students, a group with 8,000 members in several universities, said he and his associates wanted an explicit ban on face veils.
Julia KlÃ¶ckner, one of Ms. Merkelâ€™s deputies as party chairwoman, called last summer for an outright ban on the veils. She was the top vote-getter in elections for the six deputies at the congress on Tuesday.
The atmosphere at the conference was less tense than at last yearâ€™s, Mr. Krishnan said. Fewer migrants have arrived since spring, when Balkan states largely closed their borders to migrants. The migrant flow through Turkey has also dropped sharply since Ms. Merkel arranged a European Union agreement to pay the Turks to care for migrants and prevent them from heading west to Central Europe.
In the prelude to the party conference, Ms. Merkel had attended a series of regional meetings, occasionally facing a demand to resign, or hostile criticism of her decision to allow migrants free passage in 2015.
Little of those critiques surfaced at the briskly managed conference on Tuesday, and Ms. Merkel won a 12-minute standing ovation. She was reaffirmed in the party leadership she has held since 2000 by a thumping 89.5 percent of votes from 994 party delegates.
The campaign ahead, she suggested, had not been made easier by the result of the United States election â€” a rare rhetorical distance for a German chancellor, particularly one from the center-right Christian Democratic Union.
Washington is easily Germanyâ€™s most important ally outside Europe. While not mentioning Mr. Trump by name, Ms. Merkel indicated that his victory could make it harder to define global policy and tackle international security challenges.
â€œA good quarter century after the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the two blocs, many people have the feeling that the world has gone off the rails,â€ Ms. Merkel said.
â€œWe are dealing with a world situation â€” and that is especially true after the American elections â€” in which the world must first sort itself out,â€ she added. â€œEspecially when looking at important things like NATO and the relationship to Russia.â€
She also repeated as general principle the catalog of beliefs in freedom and equal treatment for all that she cited as her basis for cooperation with Mr. Trump the day after he was elected.
Ms. Merkel was critical of Russia, noting that it was supporting Syria in the bombing of Aleppo. She also said that â€œsomething is not rightâ€ in Germany, as tens of thousands here have rallied against an American-European free-trade pact while â€œnot a single personâ€ has marched against the tragedy unfurling in Aleppo.
As a measure of the challenges ahead in politically unpredictable times, Ms. Merkel appealed for support as she enters the election campaign. â€œPeople told me I must stand again,â€ she told her party members. â€œYou must, you must, help me.â€
By Alison Smale | New York Times | The Associated Press