Blown out in Baden-Württemberg

Baden-Württemberg is booming but Chancellor Merkel’s out-of-touch Christian Democrats still couldn’t stave off an electoral defeat of historic proportions in their conservative heartland, writes The Local’s Marc Young.

Blown out in Baden-Württemberg

Stupidly for Angela Merkel, it wasn’t the economy.

On Sunday, voters ousted Chancellor Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) after nearly six decades in power in Baden-Württemberg. Home to both global players like Daimler and countless smaller companies making high-quality goods for China and the rest of the world, the southwestern German state is booming.

Essentially enjoying full employment, it’s a conservative, industrious part of Germany with a reputation for Spießigkeit – that is, being bourgeois, uptight and staid. Hardly the place you’d expect to be ripe for political revolution.

But that’s exactly what happened in a regional election likely to have national implications for both Merkel and her beleaguered coalition cohort Guido Westerwelle.

Some observers even expect Westerwelle, Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor, will soon have to give up the leadership of his pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) after it was pummelled in Baden-Württemberg and turfed out of the Rhineland-Palatinate state legislature in another election on Sunday.

Merkel’s position in the CDU, on the other hand, looks secure, but there is already growing internal criticism that she has shaved off too much of the party’s conservative profile in a vain attempt to pander to voters.

To top off the political sensation, the environmentalist Greens are set to have their first state premier – Winfried Kretschmann – after edging out their likely coalition partners, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) in Baden-Württemberg. (Though surely little solace to Merkel’s conservatives, the SPD now faces the unsavoury proposition of playing second fiddle to the Greens across the country.)

Yes, the nuclear disaster in Japan and Germans’ deep abhorrence of atomic energy played a big part in the Greens’ success on Sunday. But, to be honest, Baden-Württemberg was an election that was lost by the CDU rather than won by the Greens.

Merkel’s unpopular decision to extend the use of nuclear power last October and her clumsy reversal in the wake of the Fukushima catastrophe certainly turned many voters against her party. But the Greens also profited from the months of protests against the controversial Stuttgart 21 rail project, which essentially mobilized and energized its base over several months.

After buttoned-down Swabian pensioners started taking to the streets of Stuttgart, it was clear Baden-Württemberg’s outgoing conservative premier Stefan Mappus was out of touch on issues that mattered not just to tree-hugging Greens.

Now Kretschmann will have to show that he’s got a better handle on the concerns of the state’s doughty residents while keeping Baden-Württemberg successfully humming along.

But as Merkel now knows, it’s not just the economy, stupid.

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Germany’s centre-right CDU to elect new leadership by end of the year

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party will elect its new leadership by the year's end, general secretary Paul Ziemiak said Monday, detailing plans for a clean slate after a disastrous election that the party lost to the Social Democrats.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and CDU leader Armin Laschet on the election campaign trail in Aachen before the election.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and CDU leader Armin Laschet on the election campaign trail in Aachen before the election. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

In power for 16 years under Merkel, the Christian Democratic Union is grappling with its deepest crisis in decades after turning in a historic low score in September’s election.

Its leader Armin Laschet last week signalled his readiness to step aside, setting the ball rolling for renewal at the top.

READ ALSO: Laschet signals he’s ready to step down as CDU leader

Ziemiak said a date for the congress to determine the new makeup of the party’s top brass as well as how rank and file members can participate in the leadership selection process will be announced on November 2nd.

But the party’s leaders “today agreed unanimously that we will elect a completely new executive board,” he said, adding that in terms of the calendar, the “window for this is year’s end”.

Bild daily had reported that the party has made a tentative booking for December 6th-13th in Dresden for its possible congress.

READ ALSO: Germany edges a step closer to a government led by Social Democrats

Laschet, who is state premier of Germany’s most populous region North Rhine-Westphalia, was elected head of the CDU in January.

For some time, he was the clear favourite to succeed Merkel, who is bowing out of politics after running four consecutive coalitions.

But his party’s ratings began to slide as he committed a series of gaffes, including being caught on camera laughing in the background during a solemn tribute to flood victims.

With the CDU’s ratings plunging, Merkel tried to boost Laschet’s campaign with joint appearances, but was unable to help the conservatives pull off a win on election day.