Merkel acknowledges need to engage with Eurosceptic voters

Alternative für Deutschland takes seven seats from German contingent of 96

Chancellor Angela Merkel:  Germany’s result was a Eurocritical tremor compared to France’s earthquake. Photograph: Reuters

Chancellor Angela Merkel: Germany’s result was a Eurocritical tremor compared to France’s earthquake. Photograph: Reuters

 

German chancellor Angela Merkel performed a political pirouette yesterday, conceding the time had come to stop ignoring Germany’s Eurocritical Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and engage with its voters – if not its politicians.

On its second electoral outing, the AfD won 7 per cent and seven seats from Germany’s contingent of 96 in the next European Parliament, from where it has vowed to push reform of the single currency and the EU’s freedom of movement rules.

Germany’s result was a Eurocritical tremor compared to France’s earthquake – AfD support was steady in absolute numbers – but it was enough to put Dr Merkel on the defensive yesterday.

After senior CDU officials warned her against continuing to ignore the AfD, Dr Merkel demonstrated a new readiness to engage with AfD voters – largely disillusioned CDU supporters and non-voters – to win back their political support. “We don’t envisage a co-operation with the AfD, everyone was clear on that,” said Dr Merkel after the closed CDU meeting.

State elections Mentioning the AfD in public for the first time, however, she has an eye on state elections in Saxony and Thuringia this summer. The CDU leader acknowledged the AfD’s focus – and potential danger to her party – had broadened as the euro crisis had dissipated to include critical policies such as on European freedom of movement.

“These are questions we will have to discuss intensively with voters,” she said. “We have to look again and again at where the protest issues arise and deal with them.”

The CDU’s change of tack towards the AfD came after its Bavarian CSU allies failed Eurosceptic campaign dragged their combined result down to 30 per cent – the worst Euro result so far.

Political analysts suggested the ongoing weakness of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), the CDU’s traditional coalition ally, had added urgency to the hunt for new options.

Prof Lothar Probst, political scientist at the University of Bremen, suggested the AfD was positioning itself as a conservative party with CDU- friendly positions on fiscal discipline and opposition to Turkey’s EU ambitions. “It’s another matter whether the CDU will accept them as a possible coalition partner,” he said.

Dr Merkel described as “remarkable and regrettable” the rise of extremist and populist forces across Europe and, though Germany was spared such a result, she promised greater efforts to tackle joblessness and growth. She still supports Jean-Claude Juncker’s candidacy as European Commission president but vowed to “wait and see” how talks develop in Brussels in the coming weeks.

EU horse-trading could have a knock-on domestic effect in Germany, where Dr Merkel’s Social Democratic (SPD) grand coalition partner remains confident its man, Martin Schulz, can swing the top job. Jubilant AfD leaders said attempts to paint them as far-right extremists had failed and they vowed to work with Britain’s Conservatives and others in Strasbourg to reform the euro. “The currency is too heavy for southern Europe and too light for us,” said Hans-Olaf Henkel, a future party MEP. “We need to stop subordinating our different monetary cultures to the single currency.”

Neo-Nazi seat Germany’s election result was significantly fragmented, with 10 seats going to fringe parties, including one for the neo-Nazi NPD – a “horrifying” result, according to SPD foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Constitutional lawyers blamed the fragmented vote on Germany’s highest court for striking out the 3 per cent hurdle for European Parliament representation.

“The court did Germany a disservice on this front as it weakens the German voice in both the People’s Party and Socialist groupings,” said Prof Franz Mayer, a leading German constitutional lawyer.