Angela Merkel is reportedly to call for more migrants to be deported from Germany as she tries to fight back against growing support for her main challenger in September’s election.
In a clear move away from her controversial "open-door” refugee policy, Mrs Merkel is to put forward a 16-point plan to speed up the deportation of rejected asylum-seekers, according to Spiegel magazine.
The move comes with her Christian Democrats (CDU) trailing in the polls for the first time since 2010 amid a surge of support for Martin Schulz, the former European parliament president and outspoken Brexit opponent.
"For the next few months, what matters most is repatriation, repatriation and more repatriation,” Mrs Merkel is said to have told senior figures in her party recently.
"We all know we have to do more about repatriations,” she reportedly told a meeting with her Bavarian sister party at the weekend. "We need a national effort.”
She is to unveil the new proposals at a meeting with the leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states on Thursday which promises to be stormy.
Five of the state prime ministers are already trying to block her government’s attempts to return rejected asylum-seekers to Afghanistan.
Among the proposals Mrs Merkel will put forward are a federal "joint centre for return” to take control of deportations out of the states’ hands and place them under her government, according to Spiegel.
Other measures include federal detentions centres to hold deportees until they can be expelled, and more financial incentives to encourage migrants to return voluntarily.
The law will be changed in the wake of the Berlin Christmas market terror attack so migrants can be deported if they are considered a "threat to society”.
Immigration authorities will be given new powers to examine asylum-seekers’ mobile phones and SIM cards to determine their identity.
The Berlin attack, which was carried out by a rejected asylum-seeker who could not be deported because his native Tunisia was disputing his nationality.
Mrs Merkel has sought to distance herself from her "open-door” policy in recent months, pledging last year never to repeat it.
She has refused to bow to demands for a limit on the number of refugees allowed into Germany, and has instead stressed the need to deport those whose asylum claims are rejected.
But her new emphasis on the issue appears to be an attempt to pull back support from Mr Schulz.
For much of last year, the main threat to Mrs Merkel was though to be from the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
Instead it has come from Mr Schulz, whose Social Democratic Party (SPD) is broadly pro-immigrant and asylum-seeker.
Crucially, the five state governments attempting to block deportations to Afghanistan are all led by the SPD.
But the five state governments are blocking the deportation of Afghans from their territory on the grounds that the country is not safe.
Under the current German system, it is the state governments who are responsible for deportations.
Mrs Merkel’s CDU has clearly identified the issue as an electoral weakness for the SPD.
Stephan Mayer, the interior affairs spokesman for the CDU parliamentary group, this week accused the SPD of "encouraging more immigration at the expense of the public”, and the party has threatened to cut federal funding to the rebel states.
There was some small comfort for Mrs Merkel in a new opinion poll released on Wednesday, which found her party in front of Mr Schulz’s — but only just.
The poll for the Forsa Insitute put the CDU on 31 per cent, ahead of the SPD on 30 per cent. The AfD was third on 10 per cent.
It comes days after a rival poll put the SPD in front.