Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday lashed populists trying to exploit fears over Germany's refugee influx but set out a tough line on integration, including a ban on the veil, as she launched into election campaign mode.
Outlining her strategy to counter a wave of populism that has consumed key allies abroad, Merkel vowed there would not be a repeat of last year's record refugee influx.
She also stressed it was legitimate for Germany to expect newcomers to integrate, and this included rejection of the niqab full-face veil.
"The full veil must be banned wherever it is legally possible," she told the annual gathering of her centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Next year's polls will "not be a walk in the park" as Germany is deeply polarised, noted the German leader, but urged the population to remain "sceptical about easy answers".
"Rarely is it the easy answers that bring progress to our country," she said, in a clear reference to the upstart anti-Islam and populist AfD, which Merkel had previously criticised as offering no solutions to problems.
Merkel, who has led Germany for 11 years, last month confirmed she would run for a fourth term but acknowledged that the election would be "more difficult" than any other she has contested.
There have also been questions about whether the 62-year-old has fresh ideas to offer in a world upended by Brexit, the surprise election of Donald Trump and the departure of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi following a crushing referendum defeat championed by populists.
The CDU has suffered setbacks in five consecutive state polls as voters punished Merkel for her liberal refugee policy, with more than a million people seeking asylum in Germany since 2015.
Tackling the hot potato issue head-on, Merkel vowed that "a situation like that of summer 2015 can and must not repeat itself." She also stressed that each asylum request would be examined carefully, and "not all can and will stay" in Germany.
Merkel secured the blessing of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to lead the party into next year's elections, but with one of the poorest results in the history of such polls.
Delegates of the centre-right CDU voted 89.5 percent for her to remain at the helm, in the second worst score achieved by Merkel.
During the last party vote in 2014, Merkel garnered 96.7 percent of support and national media suggested that any score below 90 percent would be a slap in the face.
Beyond domestic issues, Merkel also devoted a large part of her address to crises abroad as she noted that in 2016, "the world has not become stronger and more stable, but weaker and more unstable".
She deplored the failure of the international community to alleviate the suffering in Syria's besieged city of Aleppo, calling it a "disgrace".
She also underlined the importance of holding the European Union together, saying Germany will do well "only when Europe does well too."