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Angela Merkel was forced to defend her controversial decision to open Germany’s borders to more than 1m asylum-seekers on Sunday as she come under pressure in a televised election debate. Martin Schulz, the main challenger, accused the German chancellor of a “serious mistake” with her “lone decision” and said she should have worked with European allies to find a common approach. But a defiant Mrs Merkel insisted Germany had been faced with a “very dramatic situation” and had no choice but to act. “That is what being chancellor is about. You have to decide,” she said. German voters go to the polls on September 24 Credit: Handout via Reuters The televised debate brought to life an election that has until now seemed little more than a victory procession for Mrs Merkel. With just three weeks until Germany votes on September 24, the debate was widely seen as Mr Schulz’s last chance to lift his flagging campaign and prove that he can mount a serious challenge to Mrs Merkel. “Integrating a million people into German society will be the task of a generation,” he said at one point, and at another: “Integration is not something that happens on paper.” But Mrs Merkel was able to present herself as the voice of experience, quoting detailed figures on immigration off the top of her head, and mentioning her recent conversations with other world leaders. In Germany, the debate format is different. There is no live audience and only the leaders of the two main parties take part in what is popularly known as the “TV Duel”. Bottom line: @MartinSchulz needed to win big tonight and failed. #TVDuell— Matthew Karnitschnig (@MKarnitschnig) September 3, 2017 That gave Mr Schulz, who has repeatedly accused Mrs Merkel of dodging the issues, the chance to pin his opponent down. But while he landed some telling blows against the long-serving chancellor, Mr Schulz failed to deliver the knock-out punch his campaign badly needed. Mr Schulz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) went into the debate 14 points behind Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), according to a poll released on Saturday. It is a gap most commentators believe is too large to make up, and there was little sign that Mr Schulz had done enough on Sunday night to change the course of the election. In a debate that was largely dominated by foreign policy, there was no mention of Brexit. Mr Schulz, who was memorably described by one of the country’s top pollsters as “Merkel with a beard”, attempted to differentiate himself from his opponent by taking a hard line on Turkey, pledging that if elected he would end EU accession talks. A pub shows the TV debate in Berlin Credit: Getty Images “Turkey has crossed every single red line,” he said, referring to the arrest of several German nationals But the tactic played into the hands of Mrs Merkel, who was able to portray herself as the cooler, more pragmatic head by pledging to keep the channels of communication open in order to free the arrested Germans. A similar scenario played out when the candidates were asked about Donald Trump. Mr Schulz said the US president was “too unpredictable” and that Germany needed to concentrate on its “more reliable allies". But Mrs Merkel emphasised the importance of keeping the lines of communication open. “I will do everything to convince the American president that we need a peaceful situation” to the North Korea crisis, she said. Both candidates insisted Islam has a place in German society, although Mrs Merkel stressed she would show no tolerance for extremism. Two things confirmed by that debate: 1) #Brexit is below road tolls as a priority issue in Germany; and 2) Angela Merkel is going to win.— Chris Morris (@BBCChrisMorris) September 3, 2017 As the debate turned to domestic policy, Mr Schulz attempted to shift the focus to his campaign’s central issue of social justice. “Germany is a prosperous country, but not all Germans are prosperous,” he said. But Mrs Merkel matched him. “Every single unemployed person is one too many,” she said. In the run-up to the debate, there was embarrassment for Mr Schulz in the run-up, as his SPD party accidentally released a pre-prepared statement claiming victory for their man — several hours before it even started. But a snap poll of 1,000 viewers held at the halfway point found Mrs Merkel was ahead, with 59 per cent saying she had the best arguments.