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Merkel's party slammed in biggest state election

The Local · 13 May 2012, 21:55

Published: 13 May 2012 18:37 GMT+02:00
Updated: 13 May 2012 21:55 GMT+02:00

Around 16 months before national elections, the snap poll in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous with 18 million people, is closely watched as a taste of things to come at federal level.

While Germans nationally back Merkel and her tough stance on European belt tightening and debt reduction, voters in NRW handed her conservatives their worst ever result in the western state.

Her Christian Democatic Union (CDU) won just over 26 percent, according to preliminary results, while the main opposition Social Democrats (SPD) took 39 percent in NRW, home to the Ruhr industrial heartland.

The result is a further blow to Merkel, a week after her strategy for fighting the eurozone crisis took a hit in Greek and French votes, prompting her to warn against "growth on credit."

It also comes two days before she hosts French president-elect Francois Hollande who campaigned on a pledge to renegotiate the eurozone's fiscal pact for tighter budgetary rigour which Merkel argues is essential to underpin the continent's eventual recovery.

The SPD has echoed calls by Hollande to place more emphasis on growth in the fiscal pact and Merkel, who needs a two-thirds majority in parliament to ratify the fiscal pact, will therefore need opposition support.

"We put people at the centre," the SPD's incumbent state premier Hannelore Kraft said, who looked set to form another coalition with the ecologist Green Party but, this time, with a majority.

The Greens scored 11.5 percent, according to the preliminary results, while the upstart Pirate party continued its winning streak with more than seven percent.

This enables the party which campaigns on a pro-transparency platform to enter the state parliament, its fourth entry into a regional parliament since September.

Notching up a success in the vote was Merkel's pro-business coalition partners at the federal level, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), which confirmed a reversal of its fortunes, after a string of humiliating defeats.

Hot on the heels of its better-than-expected result last Sunday in Schleswig-Holstein state, the FDP took about 8.4 percent, significantly better than the around three percent it is polling nationally.

"The defeat is bitter and it really hurts," said the CDU's main contender Norbert Röttgen, who is also Merkel's environment minister.

He had faced off against Kraft in the poll, which was triggered after the minority state government unexpectedly fell when the regional parliament failed to pass a draft budget after just 22 months in power.

Kraft had argued the need for public savings but also focused on jobs, education and nursery places, while Roettgen took aim at the SPD contender for clocking up public debt.

Röttgen's campaign ran into trouble when he failed to commit to staying in opposition in the region if he lost Sunday's vote. He later had to backtrack after reportedly irking party allies by saying the NRW vote was a referendum on Merkel's policy on Europe.

The Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper said Kraft had won over people with her social policy.

"That she further increased the deficit despite growing revenues, people did not hold against her, quite the opposite. Obviously, the message from Düsseldorf to Berlin, is that the citizens are tired of the drive for consolidation," it said.

Story continues below…

The vote was the third regional election in Germany in eight weeks and comes a week after Merkel's centre-right coalition lost power in the state of Schleswig -Holstein.

Merkel plans to fight for a third term in elections due in late 2013. NRW historically plays a big role in federal politics - in 2005, a lost vote in the state prompted then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to call a snap federal election which saw Merkel wrest power from him.

Bordering the Netherlands and Belgium, NRW was once known as the "land of coal and steel" helping to power the country's post-World War II economic miracle.

Both sectors have since declined but other industries such as mechanical engineering and metal and iron-working have grown.

AFP/jlb/bk

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

21:08 May 13, 2012 by letzelfarm
I like Chancellor Merkel and I hope she is re-elected. That said, she needs to move more to the center if she is to survive. The right-side mentality of only reducing so-called entiltlements here in the U.S. is a joke. They blasted our President for investing in the Stimulus Package and Auto bailout but time has shown both are working in building a strong business, job stability, and economic growth. We're not there yet but are well on the way.

The French and the Germans are noticing that sucess and are making change. Chancellor Merkel should consider doing so as well before the voters do it for her.
22:06 May 13, 2012 by quiller
The politicians throughout Europe have been led by the nose by the banks and the ECB. The people are voting out the old guard whose sole mantra has been austerity, austerity, austerity. Any fool can dig up vegetables - the secret of the trick is to grow more vegetables. Bank socialism has done nothing more than recapitalise the banks. It has not created jobs, new products, mortgages, etc. The EU and the old guard style governments have group think syndrome. The same mantra is created over and over again. Mr Barosso found €10 billion the other day to create a development program - does he really think the European citizens are thick and dense. €10 billion to kick start economies across Europe would not kick start an old style motor bicycle. Unless politicians start thinking outside the box controlled by the civil servants and bankers who failed the tests - then there will continue to be changes in governments until the people are served by the system with a higher priority than the mantra of austerity.
22:07 May 13, 2012 by siba
"While Germans nationally back Merkel and her tough stance on European belt tightening and debt reduction" ... Where the hell does the local take this from? There was no election on this topic. And in my experience, this pro/against-austerity topic is for most Germans not a topic at all. For Germans it is too far away from every day life and people have no opinion on it. It is just from the outside world that Germany is associated with the austerty theme. But actually it is only a topic from the national government but not really from the German population.
22:25 May 13, 2012 by McM
Mmmmmm! Another home goal for the free lunch popularism that is sweeping the EU. I think mothers day was a brilliant electoral choice. Can't wait for the post election dust up, should bring out the best in opportunist hypocrisy and rebirthed fringe parties.
22:29 May 13, 2012 by vonSchwerin
No one is surprised that the SPD gained 4.5% or that the CDU lost 8%.

What is far more interesting (and requires more nuanced examination) is that despite all the rhetoric about the FDP being dead, the FDP *gained* votes in NRW over 2010. Up nearly 2%. On 8%, the FDP did *much* better than the YouGov and Forsa prediction.

Another story worth investigating is why, despite all the backlash against austerity, the Linke lost 3% over 2010 is now out of the parliament. The Linke had a similar result in Schleswig-Holstein. The decline of the western PDS-Linke is more surprising that the decline of the CDU.
23:05 May 13, 2012 by quiller
McM - "Mmmmmm! Another home goal for the free lunch popularism that is sweeping the EU". Does that include the free bank bailout by tax payers which was the biggest socialist con job by conservative governments and the ECB. ?
00:14 May 14, 2012 by ChrisRea
@ siba

A country with a representative democracy would not organise elections each time the opinion of the citizens is needed. That is what the opinions polls are used for. What The Local says ("Germans nationally back Merkel and her tough stance on European belt tightening and debt reduction") is based on the results of these polls. Here is a report about a recent one (May 4): http://news.yahoo.com/germans-back-euro-zone-austerity-prefer-sarkozy-poll-101243075.html.
00:19 May 14, 2012 by michael86
This election had nothing to do with Merkel. I'm from NRW and Norbert Röttgen just made an awfull election campaign, that's why they lost 8%.

Actually Germans are not much concerned about the european austerity plans of Angela Merkel. You do hear it at times in political talk shows, but what the people are worrying about the most is that they do not want to bail out all those countries who can't controll their households.
01:04 May 14, 2012 by rwk
She should get kicked out for the termination of the nuclear energy industry without having a viable substitute. The knee-jerk reaction to Fukushima, shows she has no spine.
04:29 May 14, 2012 by The-ex-pat
This report is a breath of fresh air, not a single mention of the Pirate Party.....................
06:08 May 14, 2012 by McM
@quiller. No actually, that was a n Executive smorgasbord. Must be fair about our social groupings . Don't want anyone to be offended or show any disrespect now do we?
08:55 May 14, 2012 by siba
@ ChrisRea: Thx for the link. The local should quote as newspapers usually do.

However, also the majority of Germansd is for taxing more the rich and taxing the finance market. With this the economies in Europe can be stimulated without making new debts. That is actually the favoured model of the Social Democrats in Germany and also of the Socialists in France. Even Merkel would like to introduce taxes on the finance sector, though, the market-focused FDP and the UK block this solution.

I always wonder that the finance industry which partly caused and pushed the current financial and economic crisis is totally left out in this discourse which is narrowed down to pro/agains-austerity.
11:40 May 14, 2012 by smart2012
I honestly was surprised that CDU lost so much in the highest populated state of Germany (1/5 of German propulation), despite all campaign in Germany of hiding the issue and saying that all the problems are because of Greece.......... This means that German people are not blind :-) This is making me happy and confirm my theory (that most of u guys should know already) that Merkozy did a disaster in the last 9 months.

And this time I have to disagree with Chango Mutney (with whom I normally agree).. It is clear that noone should live at higher standards if he/she cannot afford it, however it should be also stated that people cannot be nailed down to the floor just because of bad management by the big economical GURU.. All of this started in 2008 when banks screwed up with bubbles. And to againg makes me more confortable in what I am saying, I will give u the Spain example. 3 years ago Sapin was taken as a benchmark for economical KPIs (great growth/unemployemt going down), and all of this was supported by Bundesbank guys. And look at Spain today, after 3 years????? My trust for those economical GURUs is gone, and EU has to make a big step if it wants to survive, not just saving bank interest (in Germany now they wants that Greece leave, as now they have reached the controlled bankrupt agreement of Greece with banks...)
18:31 May 14, 2012 by Englishted
@Chango Mutney

Thank you for the rant against socialism (if you think the S.P.D.is a socialist party wrong.)But it is also against democracy because that is idea of a vote.

It makes a change that you could not blame the E.U. for something ,however you do tend to have a go at every party in the U.K. as well ,so you are welcomed to your opinion which sometimes I agree with but not today.
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