Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

CDU lost the first of a series of landmark local elections in Germany

Ralitsa Kovacheva, February 23, 2011

Elections in Hamburg were only the beginning of a series of local elections in Germany, the results of which are considered to be an indicator of the chances of the Chancellor Merkel to stay in power beyond 2013. However, if we judge by the results in Hamburg, the position of the ruling coalition is becoming increasingly difficult.

In the second-largest German city, which is one of Europe's largest ports, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union registered its heaviest loss since World War II. With 48 percent of the vote and 62 seats in the local parliament, the center-left Social Democrats won an absolute majority. CDU received only 22% of the vote, which is almost two times less than its results in the last elections in 2008.

Although performing better than previous elections, with their 11.2 percent the Greens are also considered as losers. The party hoped to enter local governance because it is a traditionally preferred coalition partner of the the Social Democrats. A full majority, however, will allow them to govern without the support of the Greens, who will most likely go into opposition. The Free Democratic Party, the minor partner in Merkel's government, has entered for the first time in local parliament with 6.6 percent of the ballots. This is somewhat surprising, given the declining rating of the party at national level, contributing significantly to the overall fall in popularity of Merkel's government. The Left Party has also entered the city-state's parliament, succeeding to overcome the 5% barrier.

On national level the loss in Hamburg means 3 seats less for the Christian Democrats in the Bundesrat (the upper house of Parliament). They now have only 31 seats instead of previously 34, which was insufficient anyway for the CDU to have a majority in the Bundesrat, for which 35 seats are required. If CDU, however, continues to lose positions, this will impede the adoption of important laws.

Observers say the heavy loss of the Christian Democrats in Hamburg is due to the disapproval of the voters on a number of local issues such as failure in educational reform and the controversial plans to expand the port on the Elbe river. This means that the loss in Hamburg still cannot be taken as a trend on national level. Everything will very much depend on the next round of local elections, 6 for the year: in Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Wuertemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in March, in Bremen in May, in Maklenburg-Western Pomerania and the capital Berlin in September.

How the German ruling party will perform in the local elections is important for the whole of Europe, because the European policy of the country is strongly influenced by the domestic political agenda. By 2013 Chancellor Merkel must push through Parliament the EU Treaty changes, aimed at creating a permanent rescue fund for the euro area (European Stability Mechanism). The changes are needed because of concerns that under the current conditions the country's participation in the provisional fund may be contested before the German Constitutional Court.