State voters give Angela Merkel a warning

But defiant CDU party declares: ‘The German government will continue to pursue its refugee policy with all its might, both at home and abroad’

They are three very different länder: the rich, southern industrial state of Baden-Wüerttemberg; the wine-growing Rhineland-Palatinate bordering on France, and the eastern, former GDR state of Saxony-Anhalt, known for its right-wing xenophobic culture. However, all three delivered sharp, albeit contradictory, rebukes to Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday and cast what her aides admitted to be "a lot of shadow" over her open-door migration policy.

The rise of the nationalist Eurosceptic far-right – in some cases even neo-Nazi right – in central and eastern Europe has now infected even Germany, bringing the populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, formed in 2013, into half of Germany's 16 state parliaments. This showing for the nationalist right in the country has no parallel since the second World War.

Its victory in Saxony-Anhalt was especially striking – not least, given that it has taken as few as three per cent of the country's refugees – and a particularly severe blow to the left. AfD took a quarter of the vote, becoming the second biggest party behind Merkel's slightly reduced CDU, dwarfing the Left Party in third place and the Social Democrats (SPD) in fourth, down 10 per centage points on 2011. The current coalition of CDU and SPD cannot continue as both together have lost their majority in the state parliament.

In Baden-Württemberg, once a CDU heartland, projections saw the party down almost 12 points to less than 28 per cent, its worst result there since 1952. But the outcome was contradictory – state premier Winifried Kretschmann led his Green Party to a triumphant 30.5 per cent, the highest ever regional result for his party. But he may not have enough votes with the SPD to retain the premiership. And in the state where the CDU drop was greatest, the party's candidate had actually distanced himself from Merkel's policy.


The result has undoubtedly increased pressure on Merkel within the CDU family. The party's Bavarian CSU allies are adamant that the migration policy is to blame for the conservatives' weak showing in the elections. Leader Horst Seehofer says that "we should tell people that we get it and that we will draw the consequences from this election result". But yesterday a spokesman for the CDU was insisting that "the German government will continue to pursue its refugee policy with all its might, both at home and abroad".

Merkel's determination to hold firm, however, is not as politically irrational as many would suggest. It is possible to read this election as a pot half full. Although the AfD may have been the story of Sunday, even where it did best – in Saxony-Anhalt – two thirds of the electorate voted for the CDU or parties to its left which support her migration policy. As Germany's Die Zeit put it: "A million immigrants later, Germans are shaken, but Germany's civil society has shown its resilience."