Merkel promises stable government despite AfD surge

German chancellor refuses to rule out SPD coalition amid fallout from general election

Frauke Petry, the co-leader of Germany's far-right AfD announces she will not be part of the parliamentary group of her anti-immigrant party and walked out of a news conference without answering questions. Video: Reuters


German chancellor Angela Merkel has insisted she will form a stable government despite a far-right surge pushing her centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) down to 33 per cent in Sunday’s federal election, its worst result since 1949.

Hours after far-right populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) became the third-largest party on 12.6 per cent, one of its leaders, Frauke Petry, quit in protest at the party’s extremist rhetoric.

“All parties have a responsibility for forging a stable government,” said Dr Merkel in a nod to her outgoing coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party (SPD). It polled a 20 per cent, its worst-ever federal result, and plans to head to opposition.

SPD leader Martin Schulz said on Monday that Dr Merkel “should use her time more effectively to call others” – and not him.

The German leader dismissed talk of fresh elections and insisted she was not giving up so easily on the SPD.

“I acknowledge the SPD’s position, but we need to remain in contact,” she said. “What’s important is that we get a good, stable government.”

Risky three-way

If the SPD closes the door on the CDU, after two grand coalitions, Dr Merkel’s only other option is an untested three-way coalition with two ideologically opposed parties. That has been dubbed the “Jamaica” coalition, as the colours of the Caribbean island’s flag correspond to the party colours of the three parties: CDU (black), FDP (yellow) and Green.

Neither the centre-left Greens nor liberal Free Democrats (FDP) have ruled out co-operating with the CDU. But they are wary of Dr Merkel’s track record with the SPD and the FDP: the latter crashed out of the Bundestag after four years supporting Dr Merkel.

“Whoever lies down with this chancellor dies in bed,” said Thomas Kemmerich, FDP leader in the eastern state of Thuringia.

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Over at the Greens, their greatest problem is not with the CDU but the FDP. It opposes Green demands to close coal-burning energy plants, demanding a “business-friendly” approach to climate change.

The two parties are also diametrically opposed on taxes, on how to solve Germany’s growing housing crisis and on health insurance reform.

When French president Emmanuel Macron elaborates his call for EU reform during a speech at the Sorbonne on Tuesday, he can expect support from the Greens and furious opposition from the FDP.

Christian Lindner, who was on Monday elected FDP parliamentary party leader, has vowed to oppose “new pots of money for automatic transfers” in the euro zone.

Even before the start of tricky coalition talks, which are likely to drag on into November or even December, Green MP Canan Bayram vowed on Monday to oppose any Jamaica coalition.

“This will be a very difficult question for the party,” said Ms Bayram, from Berlin’s left-wing Kreuzberg neighbourhood. “It could even lead to people losing their political home in the Greens.”

Little love for AfD

With six parties – its largest number since the 1950s – the next Bundestag will be a crowded place. Although the German lower house of parliament officially has only 598 seats, the new Bundestag will be the largest ever with 709 MPs, because of idiosyncrasies of the country’s voting system and new measures to even them out.

Even before the first sitting is called, a row has broken out among existing parties over who will have to sit beside the AfD’s 97 new MPs.

As the SPD and CDU blamed each other for the strong showing by the Bundestag’s newest party, AfD leaders struggled to stabilise the party after a turbulent press conference in Berlin and the departure of leader Frauke Petry.

Most controversial is 76-year-old Alexander Gauland, head of the AfD nationalist wing, who suggested Germany had the “right to be proud” of its soldiers’ achievements in two world wars.

On Monday, following a familiar pattern of provocation and roll-back, Mr Gauland appeared to call into question postwar Germany’s unconditional support for Israel.

“That would involve a readiness to give our lives for Israel and I don’t sense that,” he said.

Cult of guilt

The AfD denies it is a racist or xenophobic political party, although its MPs have called for an end to Germany’s “cult of guilt” over the Holocaust and “Germany for the Germans”.

Frauke Petry, who has left the far-right Alternative für Deutschland. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
Frauke Petry, who has left the far-right Alternative für Deutschland. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

Ms Petry, the coleader, said on Monday that such language was “not perceived as constructive” by the party’s conservative voters. “After long consideration I’ve decided not to belong to the AfD parliamentary party,” she said at a press conference – and walked out.

Two years ago Ms Petry ousted the AfD’s founder and radicalised the party in the refugee crisis by suggesting border guards could shoot illegal entrants to Germany.

Amid growing isolation among party leadership, she has relaunched herself as a moderate. She won a Bundestag seat in her Saxony constituency with 35.5 per cent – the highest of all party candidates.

The AfD’s 13 per cent election success has sparked street protests and online protests under the hashtag “I’m 87 per cent”.