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World

German Election: Merkel Wins 4th Term, Right-Wing Party Has Strong Showing

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We want to turn now to our co-host, Rachel Martin, who is in Berlin reporting this morning on the German elections.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are here in Berlin in our studios overlooking the Brandenburg Gate, and it is a new day here in Germany. A big thing remains the same - Angela Merkel will remain as the chancellor, but there is a very significant change to the German political landscape this morning because for the first time in 60 years, a right-wing party has won enough votes to get into Parliament. The party is called the AfD, and it stands for Alternative for Germany. It is a nationalist party that has taken a very hard line on immigration.

Party officials say Germany has too many immigrants who aren't doing enough to integrate into German society. I talked with a cab driver last night who voted for the AfD. His name is Peter Sabatowski (ph), and he's 61 years old, and I asked him if immigration had played a role in his vote. This is what he said.

PETER SABATOWSKI: Absolute, absolute (speaking German).

MARTIN: You can hear him there say absolutely, but I also have to say - this is what he said - I am not a Nazi. I am not a racist. He went on to say Germany should help refugees, people fleeing war, but too many mistakes have been made. So immigration has been a huge issue, as we've said. With me here in our studios in Berlin, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who has been watching all of this unfold. Soraya, in the end, what was the AfD's message that ended up drawing so much support from German voters?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: They were basically telling people take Germany back, have enough faith in yourself and in us to take Germany back. And they managed to convince people that immigrants were the source of all their problems, especially this big wave of refugees that came since 2015. And...

MARTIN: We should say more than a million in two years.

NELSON: More than a million since then, exactly. It's clear that that was something that really resonated, but it's also important to remember that it's actually a protest vote as well. Sixty percent of exit polls suggested that people were voting for AfD to sort of show their protest.

MARTIN: And what does it mean that they're now in Parliament? How much power will they have?

NELSON: They will be - if they will be the main opposition - if they are the main opposition, they will have more power. They'll be the main rebuttal force, but otherwise, they will be in Parliament as an opposition party, which will give them some legitimacy but not as much as if they were the - actually the main opposition, which they may not be the way things are going.

MARTIN: All right. At the very least, a bigger megaphone. Moments ago, we spoke with Wolfgang Ischinger who is the former deputy foreign minister for Germany. He also served as the German ambassador to the U.S. And he said the good news, as he sees it, is that Germans voted for continuity by electing Merkel to a fourth term. He said the bad news is that the right wing is on the rise.

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER: It's a very serious problem for a nation that has this terrible history of far-right movement. We need to be particularly sensitive to the far right and what it might want to do. So Germany is different in that sense from, you know, Switzerland or Spain or so. But then on the other hand, the AfD, even if they obtain 13 percent this time, they are still not of the same quantity, of the same importance as, say, Marine Le Pen was in France. So I'm glad to say that even though this is a serious challenge, Germany will have a stable government and will continue its essentially pro-European and pro-transatlantic policy approaches.

MARTIN: Angela Merkel now wins a fourth term, cementing her position as the longest-serving leader in Europe. She has staked out a position as Europe's strongest counterpoint to President Trump in the United States. She said after Trump's election, Europe needs to take its, quote, "own destiny into its own hands," suggesting that the relationship between the U.S. and Europe was going to change. Is President Trump going to be a reliable partner for her moving forward?

ISCHINGER: Well, let me rephrase your question, if I may. Is the United States a reliable partner?

MARTIN: You see those as two separate questions.

ISCHINGER: I think that in this current situation with President Trump in the White House, we here in Europe, we need to understand that the United States is more than President Trump. There are 50 governors. There is the Congress. In other words, we will have to work with all these constituent parts of the American political system, not only with the White House. I call this the doughnut policy. If the hole in the middle is the White House with which we can't work, we go to the parts around it.

MARTIN: But you describe the Trump administration as a hole in American governance.

ISCHINGER: No, no, no, I'm saying that if the White House is not the partner with whom we can do or achieve the goals which we want to achieve, we will want to lobby as hard as we can senators and congressmen to make sure that if that decision happens, the negative fallout will hopefully, you know, be reduced by the Congress to a degree that we can tolerate.

MARTIN: If I could ask you to take a big step back and look more globally, could you characterize Germany's role in a world where the U.S. is pulling back and in a world where Russia is exerting more influence?

ISCHINGER: For Germany, the lesson of the 20th century and the lesson of the last couple of decades since our reunification was achieved is the classic nation state isn't going to be able to provide the answers to the global issues that we are currently confronting and that we will be confronting even more in the future. So our answer in the heart of Europe has got to be more, not less Europe, better Europe, more respected European Union.

Why can't 500 million Europeans not speak up more strongly on important issues in the world? Whether it's Syria, whether it's Ukraine, in a world where we have now a world record of 65 million refugees, I think the EU deserves to build up its capacity as an international actor. And that is, I think, what Chancellor Merkel talks about when she says maybe we've got to take a little more responsibility on our own. She is not saying Germany needs to do this. I think she is thinking about the European Union with Germany as an important anchor.

MARTIN: That's Wolfgang Ischinger, the former German ambassador to the U.S. Germans this morning coming to terms with the results of their election here - Angela Merkel re-elected to a fourth term; the right-wing party, the AfD, elected into Parliament, the first time a right-wing party has achieved that foothold in Parliament in 60 years. Merkel now works to form a new coalition government. She said that might take until the end of the year before she can make that happen. Negotiations are underway. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.