Federal elections in Germany on Sunday did not grab the world’s attention for their unexpected result. Angela Merkel has ensured her fourth term in office, but has found her party diminished and will face difficult coalition negotiations. However, what they did mark is a historic change of German politics with far-right AfD earning seats in the federal parliament.
On Sunday, Merkel’s CDU/CSU block lost support, while her current coalition partner, the Social Democrats party, had its poorest result since WW2. In an attempt to recuperate after a chastening defeat and to avoid becoming obsolete by enabling Merkel’s politics, the SPD has ruled out a renewed coalition with the CDU.

The fourth win for Merkel is still an amazing achievement, which can attributed to her personally. In 2015, her popularity had taken a heavy hit amid the refuge crisis and no one at that time believed that she could make a comeback.
This success is however clouded by the difficulties that lie ahead.

The AfD’s presence in the parliament should not be major political obstacle. Its result, however troubling, is in line with the rise of hard liners elsewhere, and should be easily be contained since the party itself is divided and its electoral base is extremely heterogeneous.
And despite the fear mongering and the shouts of “Nazis are back,” the AfD cannot be classified as a neo-nazi party. Far-right, yes, anti-EU, anti-immigration, yes and yes. But Nationalist Socialist, no.

It does mark, however a significant change. In its post-unification history, Germany’s political life has been decisively centrist. In the unique position of having experienced both extremes of the political spectrum, German voters have been reluctant to sway too far in either side. In earlier years, it was political suicide to make public statements that could be perceived as extremist, so the fact that the AfD has made it to the parliament indicates a turn of the tide in Germany.
Of course by no means does this mean that we can expect guys goose-stepping in Berlin in five years time. But it does indicate that the former prudence of the German voters is fading.