Justin Huggler, Telegraph, May 5, 2016
Angela Merkel on Thursday warned that Europe risks a “return to nationalism” if it does not secure its external borders, as polls showed support for the far-Right is rising in Germany amid growing fears of Islam.
“The future of Europe is at stake,” the German chancellor said in a passionate plea to preserve freedom of movement and the Schengen Agreement on border-free travel within the continent.
Even as she spoke, a new poll released on Thursday showed support for the far-Right Alternative for Germany(AfD) party is at its highest ever.
“Europe stretches from the North Pole to the Mediterranean. We must defend the Schengen Treaty and the external borders, or we risk a return to nationalism,” Mrs Merkel said.
She was speaking at a joint press conference in Rome with Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister.
Both leaders spoke out against plans by Austria to close its border with Italy at the Brenner Pass, to prevent migrants entering.
The AfD is riding high in the German polls on a wave of public discontent over the migrant crisis, and recorded its highest ever support less than a week after it adopted an anti-Muslim manifesto.
It is now in third place on 15 per cent, just five points behind Mrs Merkel’s main coalition partner, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), who have slipped to 20 per cent.
Mrs Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) remain in first place in the monthly ARD survey, with 33 per cent.
But, perhaps more worryingly for the German chancellor, a second poll found the AfD may be in step with voters with its overtly anti-Muslim stance.
Only 22 per cent of Germans believe Islam belongs in their country, according to the poll for Bild newspaper by the Insa institute.
An overwhelming 61 per cent agreed that Islam does not belong in Germany–a central plank of the AfD’s new manifesto.
The poll found attitudes had hardened considerably over the past year, which has seen more than 1.1m asylum-seekers enter Germany, the majority of them Muslim.
A similar survey in Jaunary 2015 found 37 per cent believed Islam belonged in Germany, while 47 per cent did not.
The latest poll found opinion split over the supposed “Islamisation” of Germany, a key claim of the Pegida street movement: 46 per cent said they were concerned by it, while 39 per cent said they were not.
There was, however, more acceptance when it came to individual Muslims, as opposed to Islam as a religion.
Almost half of respondents agreed that Muslims who live in Germany belong to the country, while only 30 per cent did not.
“The majority of Germans considered the issue of Islam separately,” Hermann Binkert, the managing director of Insa, said.
“While they rejects the idea Islam is part of Germany, they firmly believe Muslims who live here belong to Germany.”
An estimated 4 million Muslims live in Germany as citizens or permanent residents.
However, he poll’s findings were not all positive for the AfD.
It found 49 per cent of Germans do not believe it can establish itself as a long-term political force with its current anti-Muslim agenda.
Only 22 per cent of respondents said they believed the party would last the course.