Why is Angela Merkel calling for a ban on the full Islamic veil?

Some say Merkel is hoping to appease conservative elements in her party by calling for a widespread ban on the full Islamic veil.

Martin Meissner/AP
German Chancellor and Chairwomen of the CDU, Angela Merkel, gestures during her speech as part of a general party conference of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Essen, Germany, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a hard-line stance on face coverings in Germany on Tuesday, making Germany the latest in a series of European countries to call for stronger restrictions.

Chancellor Merkel is known throughout Europe for her more open policies regarding refugees from traditionally Muslim countries such as Syria. In the past year alone, Germany has accepted almost one million Muslim immigrants.

Why is Germany just now considering this ban, particularly after Merkel’s famed openness over the past year? Some suggest that the German Chancellor caved to longstanding political pressures.

“The full veil is not appropriate here. It should be banned wherever it’s legally possible,” said Merkel on Tuesday, adding later in her speech that, "We don't want any parallel societies. Our law takes precedence before tribal rules, codes of honor and sharia.”

If Germany chooses to follow Merkel’s suggestions, it will join a number of other European countries that have passed similar measures.

Other countries, including the Netherlands, France, and Belgium, as well as parts of Switzerland, have also banned full facial coverings. Following terrorist attacks in France this year, several French seaside towns also banned the burkini, a full body swimsuit.

Nevertheless, calling for a veil ban in Germany seems to come out of left field for Merkel, whose administration has long been seen as the greatest bulwark of liberal thought in a rightward-shifting Europe.

Perhaps more shockingly, Merkel also announced that the massive influx of immigrants Germany saw in 2015 would not be repeated in the coming year. Merkel’s openness towards refugees has brought her some criticism over the past several years.

As Merkel eyes an election bid for a fourth term in office next year, however, is her ostensible rightward shift a political choice?

Despite Germany’s female Muslim population of approximately 4.7 million, only a few actually wear facial coverings, which could reinforce suggestions that her Tuesday speech to a group of conservative supporters is an obviously political pitch.

Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is leading in the polls, but their supporters may be wary of Merkel and her more liberal policies. A number of voters who might otherwise have voted for the CDU have been put off by Germany’s recent course on immigration, and are now instead voting for anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany.

“A big segment of core voters have been put off,” said party member Christine Arlt-Palmer, according to Bloomberg. “This is terrain that we won’t win back.”

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.