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Far-Right Gains Set To Alter Germany's Relationship With U.S, E.U.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

How might the German election results resonate beyond Germany's borders? And how might Germany's role in the European Union or its relations with the U.S. be affected? Those are questions for Karen Donfried of the German Marshall Fund. Welcome to the program.

KAREN DONFRIED: Thanks so much.

SIEGEL: Thirteen percent of the vote for a party that is anti-immigrant and against deeper European integration. Should we expect to see Chancellor Merkel temper some of her preferred positions?

DONFRIED: I don't think we'll see Chancellor Merkel temper her positions because of how well that far-right AFD party did. But you will see her having to engage in very difficult coalition negotiations when her own party is weaker than it's ever been.

SIEGEL: And what might that do to Germany? What might be changed about German policy as a result of such a coalition negotiation?

DONFRIED: The headline is Chancellor Merkel was re-elected. And she will continue to be a figure of stability for Germany and for Germany's role in Europe and the world. But within that, the parties that are most likely to be working to form a coalition have different views on migration policy, on how closely the members of the eurozone should integrate. And it'll be on those issues where we'll see Chancellor Merkel having to put to use her very well-honed negotiating skills.

SIEGEL: Would you expect any changes in Germany's relations with Washington?

DONFRIED: I don't think so, no. She will remain a committed transatlanticist (ph). She will try to figure out how to work most effectively with President Trump. And they're - the parties in the coalition are also committed to a strong relationship with the U.S. President Trump will continue to hit very hard his desire to see Germany step up its defense spending, and he will continue to criticize what he calls Germany's massive trade surplus.

SIEGEL: Back to that 13 percent for the Alternative for Germany, the right-wing party. Let's face it. News of a right-wing nationalist movement doing well in Germany awakens memories that far-right successes elsewhere do not. Do you think that the alternative for Germany might be near a peak, that this is just their moment? Or can you imagine the right wing breaking, say, 20 percent in another election or two?

DONFRIED: There's no question that the AFD coming into the German Parliament is a watershed event. We have not seen a far-right party in Germany achieve that in the post-war period. They are the third-largest party in the German Parliament. So that is big news. And you're right. Because of Germany's past, it garners particular attention around the world. We don't know what the future of that party is.

We do know that a plurality of folks who voted for the AFD and spoke with exit pollsters said they didn't necessarily support the policies of the party - a very hard line against Muslim integration - but that they were really trying to send a protest vote, a message to Merkel and the other governing parties that they were unhappy. So we'll see if this is simply 10 to 13 percent of the German electorate that espouses these views over time or whether they'll gain in strength, as we've seen in other European countries.

SIEGEL: We've now seen large numbers of voters in both France and Germany reject the traditional big parties. Before that, British voters rejected the establishment's support of EU membership for that country. Is Europe a continent in search of a compelling political idea?

DONFRIED: You're absolutely right that the subtitle of this election after Merkel was re-elected is don't let Merkel's victory mask a shifting political landscape in Germany. And the major parties that have dominated German politics in the post-war period did worse than they have ever done since 1949. So the stresses and strains we're seeing across Europe for established parties are absolutely there in Germany, too. And that will make it a much noisier political system going forward.

SIEGEL: That's Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Thanks for talking with us today.

DONFRIED: Thanks so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BEAT MECHANICS SONG, "SURVIVING THE TIMES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.