German voters' crushing verdict on open-door migration: Angela Merkel is punished in crucial state elections as far-Right party wins big vote with call to stop flow of refugees
Humiliation: Ms Merkel was mocked by a carnival float showing her weighed down by her humanitarian politics
German voters turned to the far right in droves yesterday in a damning verdict on Angela Merkel’s open door border policy.
In regional elections she was humiliated by the anti-immigrant AfD – Alternative for Germany – party.
Formed just three years ago, it has surged in popularity following Mrs Merkel’s decision to roll out the red carpet for more than a million migrants.
Frauke Petry, who leads the Eurosceptic party, has suggested German border guards should open fire on illegal immigrants.
Joy: AfD leader Frauke Petry, left, and deputy speaker Albrecht Glaser, right, celebrate election success
Delight: Supporters of the AfD celebrate the exit poll news in Saxony-Anhalt state elections that suggested the party would net a second-place finish
Analysts said the regional poll – in which Mrs Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats lost two out of three states – was a ‘worst case scenario’ for the embattled chancellor ahead of a general election next year.
The timing made it a virtual referendum on Germany’s refugee policy. It will also be seen as an indictment of the failure of Europe’s ruling classes to acknowledge the public’s fears about migration.
Mrs Merkel’s welcome for arrivals from Syria, other parts of the Middle East and North Africa, has caused chaos across the continent.
Initially, the incomers were greeted by crowds of well-wishers.
But, faced with the sheer numbers, public opinion soured. And there was outrage when gangs of migrant men were involved in organised sex attacks on women in Cologne and other cities on new year’s eve.
One by one, EU states have thrown up border fences to stop the flow of arrivals – leading to the slow collapse of the Schengen passport-free zone.
Austria is one of several countries to limit numbers in defiance of Brussels.
Mrs Merkel, who has failed to win support for a Europe-wide quota system to share out refugees, last week masterminded a deal for Turkey to take back migrants landing in Greece.
In return, Ankara would be handed up to £3.9billion, EU countries would accept quotas of Syrian refugees from Turkey and all 75million Turkish citizens would be allowed visa-free travel around continental Europe.
On Thursday Mrs Merkel insisted that imposing a limit on refugee numbers was a ‘short-term pseudo-solution’ and that only a ‘concerted European approach’ would bring down numbers.
Germany has attempted to return economic migrants to ‘safe’ countries such as Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro but still risks being overwhelmed.
Last night millions of voters showed they have lost faith in the chancellor’s policies.
Early exit polls suggested AfD had won 23 per cent of the vote in the eastern state of Saxony Anhalt, finishing third.
The party fares better in former Eastern Germany where scepticism of liberal refugee policies is stronger.
But its double-digit score in two other states, Rhineland and Baden-Württemberg, was potentially more significant.
This suggests middle-class voters are deserting the Christian Democrats and other establishment parties.
Baden-Württemberg, which is home to Porsche and Daimler, was won by the Green Party. Mrs Merkel’s CDU lost a large slice of its vote in its former stronghold, plunging to a historic low of 27 per cent.
AfD has seats in five regional parliaments and in the European Parliament.
But its huge gains on ‘Super Sunday’ will reinforce fears that Germany is shifting to the right after decades of middle-of-the-road consensus politics following the Nazi period.
The tabloid Bild newspaper ran the headline yesterday ‘AfD shocks Germany!’.
Last night Mrs Petry, who chairs AfD, said: ‘We are seeing above all in these elections that voters are turning away in large numbers from the big established parties and voting for our party.’
She said voters expected AfD to offer ‘the opposition that there hasn’t been in the German parliament and some state parliaments’.
The far right victory came despite attacks by leading establishment politicians.
Mrs Merkel described AfD as a ‘party that does not bring cohesion in society and offers no appropriate solutions to problems, but only stokes prejudices and divisions’.
Sigmar Gabriel, her vice-chancellor, insisted that gains for AfD would not change his government’s stance on immigration.
‘There is a clear position that we stand by: humanity and solidarity,’ he said. ‘We will not change our position now.’
Sigmar Gabriel of the Social Democrats accused AfD of having a ‘linguistic affinity’ with the Nazis.
The Tagesspiegel newspaper said that the party drew in racists and anti-semites and suggested many former members of the neo-Nazi NPD ‘and other right wing parties are attracted to it’.
The publication of an outline of the migrant deal has raised concerns in the UK that it represents a step toward Turkish membership of the EU.
Far Right Party Makes Gains in Germany: Who Are The AFD?
Germany’s AfD – Alternativ für Deutschland – started out at as an anti–EU, anti–euro party sceptical of the power of Brussels and the ‘superstate’ project beloved of most of the Fatherland’s citizens.
Its destiny was almost certain to be that of a protest party until the refugee crisis came along and propelled it on to the national stage in a way no–one predicted.
Founded in 2013 with the intention of ending bailouts for poor southern EU countries, it focused on criticizing the government’s immigration policies last year and has not looked back.
AfD is seen by many in Germany to be linked to Pegida, a xenophobic movement which draws thousands onto the streets of the city of Dresden every Monday.
Critics refer to Pegida as ‘Nazis in pinstripes’ – an allusion to the middle-class disaffected voters it is drawing into its ranks.
The current leader of AfD is an East German-born female scientist. But the parallels with Angela Merkel end there.
Frauke Petry believes that German police should ‘if necessary’ shoot at migrants seeking to enter the country illegally.
She was lambasted for saying so in January but a poll found nearly 30 percent of the electorate agreed.
Mrs Petry, 40, took over as party chief in July 2015 after an internal power struggle that saw the party’s co-founder and first leader, Bernd Lucke, ousted.
Under Mrs Petry AfD has moved to the right and shifted focus from eurozone issues to migration.
It became the first anti–euro party to win seats in a German regional parliament – in Saxony in 2014 – and went on to win seats in four other states’ parliaments.
Its latest big win makes it more powerful than ever.
However George Osborne insisted yesterday that the Government would prevent Turks moving to Britain.
‘We have a veto over whether Turkey joins or not,’ the Chancellor told the BBC. ‘We can set conditions and we have made it absolutely clear that we will not accept new member states to the European Union and give them unfettered free movement of people unless their economies are much closer in size and prosperity to ours.
‘I don’t frankly think Turkish accession is on the cards any time soon. We could, if we wanted to, veto it as other countries could.’
Last week Iain Duncan Smith, a Brexit-backing Tory cabinet minister, warned that the silencing of debate on immigration had been ‘terrible for the British people’.
Around 110,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to Europe in the first seven weeks of this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
Last year it took from January until July to reach that figure.