KARLSRUHE, Germany – Germany will reduce the influx of migrants coming in, Chancellor Angela Merkel promised her conservative party on Monday, insisting that she's still confident her approach will work and Europe will pass its "historical test."
Germany has seen about a million asylum-seekers arrive this year. Merkel has insisted "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," Merkel said in a confident speech to her Christian Democratic Union that was greeted with a standing ovation.
Still the chancellor — who last week was named Time magazine's Person of the Year — stuck to her optimistic mantra, insisting that Germany can handle the migrant crisis "because it is part of the identity of our country to do great things."
Her decision in early September to let in migrants 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 she would risk making a promise she can't keep. She stresses instead the importance of a diplomatic solution with the rest of Europe and with Turkey, which is hosting as many as 2.2 million Syrian refugees.
Ahead of the conference, CDU leaders made some rhetorical concessions to members worried about Germany's ability to absorb more newcomers — without pledging specific further action. The party's motion now says it is determined to reduce the refugee influx 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 its motion calling for a limit on refugee numbers.
Merkel noted moves by her government to make it easier to send home people from Balkan countries such as Albania and Kosovo, and underlined officials' insistence there are "safe areas" in Afghanistan that Germany can send some Afghan refugees back to.
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."
Merkel doesn't face re-election as party leader at this congress and despite this year's tensions still faces no serious rivals.
Merkel 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've slipped amid the refugee crisis.