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Germany wants to battle again

September 24, 2017

The current election result is a turning point for Germany. The far-right populist AfD has entered parliament for the first time, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken a hit, says DW Editor-in-Chief Ines Pohl.

Bundestag, Inside the Reichstag dome, Berlin, Germany
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M.Cohen

This election sent a clear message: no more business as usual. And it had two clear losers: the Social Democrats (SPD) and Chancellor Angela Merkel. The SPD slipped to a historic low of 20 percent and Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) — together with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) — lost around 8 percent. It's the kind of setback that in normal times would be a reason for the chancellor to consider resignation. But  these circumstances are not normal times for Germany. That is reflected by the success of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which will enter the Bundestag with roughly 13 percent of the vote. It is the first time in over half a century that a right-wing populist party will sit in Germany's parliament.

Read more: Anti-AfD protests break out across Germany after election

Ines Pohl
Ines Pohl is DW's editor-in-chiefImage: DW/P. Böll

A changing landscape

This is a historic turning point. With this election, this country has changed. It is not something to be taken lightly — but at the same time, it is not a catastrophe. It is a challenge.

Ultimately, it is democracy in action. And when compared with the rest of the world, there is good reason to believe that Germany can overcome this challenge.

Strong debate in parliament can be beneficial for all sides. And a strong opposition will keep the chancellor's power in check. That is also a message to take away from tonight. It is vital that the other parties in Germany's parliament do not allow the AfD's demagogic rhetoric to steer the debate off course. They must resist distorted, populist fixes and look for real answers to the current problems.

They must also finally take seriously the fact that many people have fears about how the many refugees who have come to Germany could change the country. Germany must consider how it wants to discuss these kinds of issues. Making fear a taboo strengthens the political extreme.

That is also a message to take away from this election.

SPD joins the opposition

The first great challenge will be to form a government. It is sensible that the SPD made it immediately clear it would join the opposition. It is the only way for the party to rebuild and develop a new strategy for the future. It also prevents the AfD from becoming the Bundestag's leading opposition party.

Angela Merkel has suffered a heavy blow heading into complicated coalition talks. She must shoulder the burden of knowing many within her own ranks blame her and her refugee policy for the conservatives' disastrous election performance. Yet on the other hand, the entire world is hoping that she, despite Sunday's significant setback, will continue to be a leading Western figure in global politics and ensure Germany remains a reliable partner on the world stage. Namely, as an open and profoundly democratic country.

Those ideals are enshrined in Germany's constitution. And it applies to everyone, including the AfD. As Article 1 states: Human dignity shall be inviolable.

Ines Pohl
Ines Pohl Bureau head of DW's Washington Studio@inespohl