Merkel's new strategy for battling Alternative for Germany (AfD) is to avoid frontal attacks on the party, participants in the party executive committee told the tabloid.
The Chancellor believes that mainstream politicians' attacks on the AfD as it has surged to double-digit support over the past year have done more to create solidarity among its members than to drive potential voters away.
If the CDU wants to win those conservatives back to the centre-right it will need to stop demonising the AfD, Merkel argues.
Despite months of assaults on the AfD from government figures, recent state elections in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt saw the AfD achieving scores in the mid teens in the first two states and almost 25 percent in Saxony-Anhalt in the former East.
“We shouldn't switch to ignoring or insulting the AfD,” Julia Klöckner, defeated CDU leader in Rhineland-Palatinate, told the Rheinische Post on Tuesday.
“We have to explain and discuss controversial themes publicly so as to win AfD voters back, added Klöckner, who some commentators had previously tipped as a possible Merkel successor.
The AfD has come in for heavy criticism in recent days after members voted to include a battery of anti-Islam measures in the party's platform at its conference.
The party now calls for bans on mosques with minarets, the Islamic call to prayer, full-face veils and headscarves at schools.
“What was being discussed there is not conservative, is not patriotic, is not liberal, but above all reactionary and authoritarian,” CDU secretary-general Peter Tauber said on Monday.
“In our view, the AfD is an anti-Germany party, because it tramples on the values that have made our country great, strong and successful.”