Voters punish Germany's Merkel for refugee policies
Elections in three German states have resulted in big losses for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat coalition while boosting the fortune of the anti-immigration party Alternative For Germany.
The results give Merkel far less room to maneuver as she now looks to strike a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants.
"These results are a serious rebuke for Merkel and the most pronounced protest vote we've seen so far," said Holger Schmieding, an analyst at Berenberg Bank.
The result in the two western states was the worst-case scenario for Merkel, who has staked her legacy on her decision to open Germany's doors to over 1 million migrants last year. But she still looks set to run for a fourth successive term as chancellor, with no real challenger for the right to lead her party into next year's federal election.
"The result will increase the noise within the CDU and constrain the government's options on migrants and Greece, but Merkel's chancellorship is not at risk," said Carsten Nickel at Teneo Intelligence.
Responding to voters' fears, she has promised to stem the flow of migrants to Germany, and is trying to convince Turkey to help - and other EU partners to share the burden. In the last few weeks, the numbers of migrants entering Germany have fallen.
With a high turnout in all the votes, the AfD, already represented in five of Germany's 16 regional assemblies, succeeded in entering three more.
Its support was strongest in Saxony-Anhalt, where it grabbed 24.2 percent of the vote behind a diminished CDU showing, surpassing even the Social Democrats (SPD), Merkel's coalition partner in Berlin, ZDF television projections indicated.
With campaign slogans such as "Secure the borders" and "Stop the asylum chaos", it was the first time the AfD had come as high as second in any state.
"We have fundamental problems in Germany that led to this election result," said AfD chief Frauke Petry.
The AfD's rise, which has coincided with strong gains by other European anti-immigrant parties including the National Front in France, punctures the centrist consensus around which the mainstream parties have formed alliances in Germany, and may embolden more European leaders to challenge Merkel on the migrant issue.
The CDU's leader in Saxony-Anhalt pointed the finger squarely at Merkel for his party's losses.
"The issue that has brought the AfD into parliaments across Germany can't be ignored on a federal level any more. We need solutions," Reiner Haseloff told ARD television.
Those "solutions" must include a deal with Turkey to start turning off the spigot to stop the flow of refugees into northern Europe and start turning them around and sending them home. As you can imagine, this is going to be enormously expensive and Turkey is demanding that the EU pony up. Germany and France appear to be willing but the rest of the EU is not enthusiastic.
Until all the deals are made and the infrastructure is put in place, the refugee flow will continue. Another million are expected this year, and since the continuing wars in the Middle East show no signs of ending, there will likely be no end to the crisis in Europe anytime soon.