BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's departing finance minister expressed optimism that his country's democratic institutions were strong enough to withstand the arrival of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) as the third-largest party in parliament.
Wolfgang Schaueble, who is due to step down as finance minister to become president of the Bundestag parliament, told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag that AfD's 90-odd elected lawmakers would be constrained by Germany's constitution.
"I'd like to see more self-confidence," he told the newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday. "Our free, democratic system based on the rule of law is so strong that nobody can wreck it, neither from within nor from without. Anybody who tries will fail."
The 75-year-old conservative took his new job at the urging of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her conservatives are trying to patch together a three-way coalition with the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats, who are expected to demand the position of finance minister.
Also, many in Germany's mainstream felt a senior politician was needed to rein in the first far-right party to enter parliament in 50 years. Schaueble is Germany's longest-serving parliamentarian, and his stature is second only to Merkel's in German politics.
But Schaueble said he was ready to move on: "I decided before the elections after eight years as finance minister and many years' government responsibility to take on a new task."
He added he was confident that a three-party coalition would be agreed, dismissing arguments about a formal cap on immigration as a "false argument". He defended Merkel's 2015 decision to open Germany's borders to over a million migrants fleeing war in Africa and the Middle East.
"Even our children will remember with pride the willingness to help that the Germans showed during the refugee crisis," he told the paper.
(Reporting By Thomas Escritt and Victoria Bryan, editing by Larry King)