German foreign minister rejects questioning of asylum right

German foreign minister rejects questioning of asylum right
In this Nov. 21, 2018 photo Friedrich Merz, former CDU faction leader, gestures during his speech at the CDU regional conference to present his concept as candidate for the CDU chairmanship in Seebach, central Germany. The regional conference is the third of eight nationwide meetings of this kind. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s foreign minister on Thursday rejected comments by a candidate for the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party who appeared to question the right to asylum enshrined in the German constitution.

The constitution states that “persons persecuted on political grounds shall have the right of asylum.”

Friedrich Merz, one of three high-profile contenders to succeed Merkel as head of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, asserted Wednesday that the constitutional “individual right to asylum” is unique to Germany.

Germany, he added, should discuss at some point whether it “can continue in this form if we seriously want a European immigration and refugee policy” and whether a “legal reservation” should be built into the constitution stating that the right to asylum is subject to European rules.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, of the center-left Social Democrats, tweeted Thursday that “our fundamental right to asylum is a historic achievement. There is nothing to change.”

Maas argued that the constitution already ensures there is no conflict with European law.

Merz sought to counter that and other criticism Thursday, telling news agency dpa that he was not questioning the fundamental right to asylum and stands by a policy based on “Christian responsibility and the background of German history.”

Merz, a former leader of the conservatives’ parliamentary group and one-time Merkel rival, is seeking a comeback after a decade away from front-line politics. He stands for a more right-wing approach than Merkel, as does another contender, Health Minister Jens Spahn, who has made migration a key issue. The CDU is seeking to dent the appeal of the far-right Alternative for Germany, which has capitalized on discontent over migration.

Merz and CDU general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who appears more in tune with Merkel’s centrist approach, are viewed as the front-runners.

The new party leader, who will be elected Dec. 7, will be the favorite to become the conservative candidate for chancellor in Germany’s next election.