Merkel pledged to work harder to address people’s concerns, particularly on migrants. Her Christian Democratic Union party received just 17.6 per cent of the vote in the German capital.
The result means that Berlin state’s current coalition government, in which the CDU is the junior partner to the centre-left Social Democrats, or SPD, has no majority going forward. A three-way coalition of Social Democrats, the Green Party and the Left Party is now likely in the capital.
While the Berlin vote was partly seen as a referendum on Merkel’s handling of the migrant crisis, the state government has no control over Germany’s immigration policy. The left-leaning coalition that could now take over office would likely be more welcoming of refugees than the current state government.
Both CDU and SPD - which saw its share of the vote drop 6.7 points to 21.6 percent - lost voters to the nationalist Alternative for Germany, which has campaigned heavily against immigration. The party, known as AfD, entered its 10th state parliament Sunday with 14.2 percent of the vote. The nationalists’ strong result is particularly remarkable because the city of 3.5 million is usually known for its liberal attitude.
“I take responsibility as party leader and chancellor,” Merkel said at a news conference alongside her party’s mayoral candidate, Frank Henkel.
Speaking in unusually self-critical terms, Merkel edged away from her oft-repeated mantra - first uttered during the height of the migrants crisis last year - that “we will manage.”
Merkel said that while she stands by the sentiment, some voters had taken it as a provocation in view of the massive challenge that the country faces integrating hundreds of thousands of migrants.
She also acknowledged that for years Germany had benefited from rules that required refugee to apply for asylum in the first European Union country they enter, shielding her government from the pressure felt by other nations on the bloc’s frontiers.
“If I could I would turn back time by many, many years in order to better prepare the entire German government and everyone else in a position of responsibility for the situation that hit us largely unprepared at the end of summer 2015,” said Merkel.
She reiterated her view that Germany has already performed a herculean task to cope with the unprecedented influx of migrants over the past year, but acknowledged that more work needs to be done, including to prevent extremist attacks of the kind seen over the summer.
“Not every refugee came to our country with good intentions,” she said.
Merkel added that she’s prepared to address voters’ concerns about migrants, but that if people simply don’t want Muslim asylum-seekers because of their religion, then that would be counter to her Christian Democratic Party’s basic principles, as well as Germany’s.
“The CDU and I can’t go along with that,” she said.
Henkel, who has been in charge of security matters in Berlin for the past five years, added it was wrong to think there had been no improvement over the past year. He noted that last year up to 1,000 refugees were arriving in the capital each day, which is nowdown to between 25 and 30.
Berlin’s notoriously inefficient bureaucracy, rising rents and ailing transport infrastructure - especially the much-delated new airport - dominated the election campaign, driving voters away from the centrist coalition toward the left and right.