Angela Merkel conceded that her “open door” policies on refugees had caused her ruling Christian Democrats to suffer humiliating losses to the xenophobic Alternative for Germany party in state elections, but the Chancellor insisted she would not change course on the divisive issue.
Speaking for the first time about her party’s rout, some 18 hours after polls closed on Sunday night, a visibly shaken Ms Merkel told a press conference in Berlin that her policies – which allowed more than a million refugees to enter Germany last year – had determined the outcome of the weekend’s election.
Describing the result as a “bad day for the CDU [Christian Democrats],” she admitted that her policies had so far brought “no lasting solution” to the refugee crisis. However she said she was committed to finding a “European solution” to the problem during her meetings with the EU and Turkey later this week.
Asked whether the damaging election result would prompt her to ask for a parliamentary vote of confidence, she responded with a tart: “Nein!” In Sunday’s three state elections Ms Merkel’s conservatives and her Social Democrat coalition partners suffered devastating losses to the recently formed Alternative for Germany (AfD) party which campaigned vigorously against immigration and the slogan “Merkel must go”.
Josef Schuster, the president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, described the AfD as a “right-wing populist party which accepts extreme right-wing opinions”. He said the large number of votes the party had polled pointed to a “frightening swing to the right”.
In eastern Saxony Anhalt, the AfD achieved its best result ever after winning 24 per cent of the vote and becoming the second biggest party in the state after Ms Merkel’s CDU. In western Baden Württemberg, the AfD secured 15 per cent of the vote and in Rhineland Palatinate state, the party won 11 per cent.
Björn Höcke, one of the AfD’s most outspoken leaders, described his party’s success as the dawning of a “new era”. However, Ms Merkel said AfD gains were a protest “against the unsolved question of many refugees and fears about integration”.
Sunday’s results meant that the right-wing nationalist party now holds seats in eight of Germany’s 16 state parliaments. And the AfD could enter the national parliament after next year’s general election.
Ms Merkel’s election debacle was certain to provoke further demands from her party’s right wing for the course change she has so far resisted. The opening salvos were fired yesterday by Horst Seehofer, leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union, a sister party to the CDU and one of the Chancellor’s fiercest critics.
Describing the polls as a “political earthquake,” Mr Seehofer said he would redouble his efforts to ensure that Germany imposed an upper limit on the numbers of migrants entering the country.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies