Losses for Germany's established parties and gains for the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) in state elections are a result of "protest behaviour" by voters worried about an influx of migrants and its effect on internal security, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday.
Sunday's elections in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt were seen as a gauge of popular opinion on the chancellor's policies to manage the refugee crisis.
The so-called Super Sunday vote saw the anti-immigrant AfD enter three state parliaments.
Voters were protesting "in relation to the unresolved question surrounding the many migrant arrivals, as well as fears about integrating them," Merkel said at a press conference after meeting with her Christian Democrats (CDU) colleagues as they lick their wounds and consider next steps.
Though a satisfactory answer to the refugee crisis has not yet been found, Merkel said she remains convinced there has to be a European solution with the support of Turkey in order to sustainably reduce the number of migrants coming to Europe.
Merkel has resisted border closures and other unilateral measures to reduce migrant arrivals in Germany, which surpassed 1 million in 2015, sparking widespread discontent and mobilizing droves of former non-voters in Sunday's polls.
Voter turnout in all three states was higher than usual.
German politicians are divided over whether the election outcome weakens Merkel's position ahead of Thursday's summit of EU leaders on migration.
Guenther Oettinger, an EU commissioner and an ally of Merkel, said the chancellor's European solution had a chance of success despite Sunday's election outcome. "This is why bringing about a change of course now would be wrong," Oettinger told Funke media group.
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that 80 per cent of voters in Sunday's polls had chosen political parties that "advocate a European solution to the refugee crisis and support the chancellor's course."
Horst Seehofer, an ally-turned-critic of Merkel and leader of her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), said that the election outcome - a "tectonic shift in German politics" - could not result in inaction.
"It cannot be possible that the answer to such an election outcome is that everything will continue as before," he said ahead of a CSU meeting in Munich. When asked whether Merkel was still the right person to lead Germany, he answered: "Yes."
The AfD, which won 24.3 per cent in Saxony-Anhalt, where the far-right has long been active, took votes from the established parties and mobilized millions of former non-voters - a sign of how deeply the refugee crisis is polarizing Germany.
A reduction in the combined vote of the CDU and the Social Democrats (SPD) - the two major parties that have long dominated Germany's political landscape - raises the prospect of political splintering and the formation of potentially unstable three-party coalitions.
Malu Dreyer, SPD premier in Rhineland-Palatinate, has already signalled she may form a coalition with the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) - traditionally a Merkel ally that has been severely weakened by the emergence of the AfD.
Responding to the election results on Monday, Dreyer said: "The European solution [to the refugee crisis] has to come, and it has to come fast."