German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, December 2015.
Fabrizio Bensch / REUTERS

In recent years, Germany has emerged as Europe’s preeminent power not only because of the strength of its economy but also because of the extraordinary stability of its political system. Chancellor Angela Merkel is the embodiment of this stability: for most of the past decade, she has been able to govern as a centrist, unconstrained by the right-wing populist groups that have become a major force in all of Germany’s neighbors. This domestic calm allowed Merkel to focus on managing Europe’s various crises—from the negotiations over Greece’s debt to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

All of that is now changing fast, thanks mostly to the rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is capitalizing on widespread discontent with Merkel’s refugee policy. Represented in ten of Germany’s 16 regional parliaments and polling at up to 15 percent nationally, the AfD is on track

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