Merkel says won’t change tack to counter anti-immigration party

Opinion polls give the AfD support of up to 14 percent, presenting a serious challenge to the conservatives.

FILE: German Chancellor Angela Merkel on 30 June 2015. Picture: AFP.

GERMANY - German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted on Tuesday her conservatives would not change strategy to counter the fast-rising Alternative for Germany (AfD) after a newspaper reported she wanted to shift course to lure back voters from the anti-immigration party.

Mass-selling daily Bild cited participants at a meeting of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) as saying she had told them the party needed to work harder to attract right-of-center voters and that she wanted a new strategy to counter the AfD.

Opinion polls give the AfD support of up to 14 percent, presenting a serious challenge to Merkel's conservatives and other established parties ahead of a 2017 federal election. They rule out any coalition with the AfD.

Merkel dismissed the idea of the CDU changing course.

"There is no change in strategy whatsoever,"she told reporters after taking part in a discussion at a French school in Berlin.

The AfD has surged onto the German political scene since its launch three years ago, its rise fueled by popular concerns about Europe's migrant crisis.

Merkel's CDU led criticism of the party on Monday after it declared Islam incompatible with the constitution.

Germany is home to nearly 4 million Muslims, about 5 percent of the total population. Community leaders have called on politicians to ensure that no religious community be disadvantaged and that Islam not be defined as a "foe".

Insisting her party had political arguments to counter the AfD's views, Merkel said she would also do what she could to blunt the far-right National Front in France by arguing against its positions, as with the AfD.

"I will try to do my part, insofar as one can from the outside, so that other political forces are stronger than the National Front," she said during the school discussion.