After serious allegations from the traffic light government, CDU leader Friedrich Merz has apologized for his choice of words about "social tourism" by Ukraine refugees. "If my choice of words is perceived as hurtful, then I apologize in all forms," tweeted the 66-year-old on Tuesday. There was a lot of criticism for his statement. "I regret the use of the word 'social tourism'. It was an inaccurate description of an isolated problem."
A jury of linguists chose the word "social tourism" as the "nonsense word of the year" in 2013. It "discriminates against people who are looking for a better future in Germany out of sheer need, and obscures their basic right to do so," the statement said at the time.
Merz wrote that his comment "only applied to the lack of registration of the refugees. It was and is far from my intention to criticize the refugees from Ukraine, who are confronted with a hard fate."
The CDU party and Union faction leader told Bild TV on Monday evening: "We are now experiencing social tourism from these refugees: to Germany, back to Ukraine, to Germany, back to Ukraine." The background according to Merz: Initially, Ukraine refugees were entitled to care under the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act - since June they have received basic security, i.e. the same benefits as Hartz IV recipients, and are therefore somewhat better off.
SPD: Merz uses AfD tactics
The SPD in the Bundestag accused Merz of using the tactics of the AfD. "He deliberately wants to start a political culture war and shift the discourse to the right by constantly shifting borders," criticized parliamentary secretary Katja Mast. "So far we only know that from the AfD," she told the German Press Agency. The fact that Merz then "half-heartedly" distanced himself from his statements was "no more than the usual scam".
Greens: How do Merz's statements fit in with Ukraine solidarity?
Green Party leader Ricarda Lang tweeted: "How does it fit in with the Union's much-vaunted solidarity with Ukraine that Friedrich Merz speaks of "social tourism" in the context of people fleeing this terrible war of aggression?"
Green parliamentary group leader Britta Haßelmann called Merz's statement in Berlin "unhesitating and shabby". His subsequent explanation was "wobbly" and didn't make things any better.
FDP: Merz endangers social support for Ukraine
In the afternoon, the Union faction in the Bundestag meets for its regular deliberations in a plenary week. Before that, Merz should again comment on his statements in the usual statement to the media.
The left called Merz's accusation "disgusting". The left-wing parliamentary group's migration expert, Clara Bünger, told dpa that he also contradicted the line of his parliamentary group, which welcomed the fact that Ukrainian war refugees received benefits under the Social Security Code in the Bundestag. "Friedrich Merz has meanwhile half-heartedly apologized for his choice of words", for his strategy "of wanting to fish for votes with inflammatory slogans on the right-wing edge, this apology is still pending".
Dobrindt: Not on gold scales
CSU regional group chief Alexander Dobrindt said of Merz's controversial statements: "He corrected it and that's the end of it." The CSU politician added: "A sentence can sometimes be wrong. You don't have to put that on the gold scales." The CDU boss apologized publicly and in all forms.
The parliamentary director of the Union faction in the Bundestag, Thorsten Frei (CDU), said that Merz used a "certainly very pointed formulation" to "point out a problem that may exist here". He admitted that the term could be misunderstood. He said he had no corresponding figures that could conclusively assess the situation with the refugees. Dobrindt explained at his own event in Berlin that he also had no corresponding figures or his own findings that justified the derivation made by Merz.
Migration researcher: accusation "absurd"
The migration researcher Birgit Glorius objectively classified the accusation of "social tourism" against Ukrainians as "absurd". Refugee movements are never one-dimensional, said the Chemnitz professor, who heads the scientific advisory board of the Federal Office for Migration, the dpa. Refugees still have many obligations in their country of origin, for example with regard to relatives. "Of course you drive back and forth if that's possible."
What do the statements mean for Wahl in Lower Saxony?
Two weeks before the important state elections in Lower Saxony, in which the CDU is also fighting for votes from SPD, Greens and FDP supporters, Merz' "social tourism" lawsuit is likely to cause frowns in the CDU. In the Union it was said that it was to be expected that the SPD and Greens would now use the statements in the election campaign against the CDU.
With regard to Merz, it was heard in the Union that, in addition to the dispute with Chancellor Scholz, he must now also accept those with Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens). Habeck is the biggest weakness in the traffic light government. Assumptions that Merz wanted to address the conservatives in his party were rejected as unlikely. It must have been clear to Merz what reactions he would trigger with his words.