Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Merkel lost Baden-Wuertemberg, but she isn't going anywhere

Ralitsa Kovacheva, April 4, 2011

German Christian Democrats have lost consecutive state elections - in Baden-Wuertemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, after having lost the last month elections in Hamburg. The big winner of the last two votes is the Green Party, which was expected given the accident in Fukushima and the lively debate on the future of European nuclear reactors. The loss in Baden-Wuertemberg was particularly severe in a symbolic way becauseWuertemberg's the province had been ruled by Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for almost 60 years and was considered a stronghold of the conservatives.

To the defeat of the Christian Democrats also contributed some purely regional problems like the controversial project Stuttgart 21. It provides for a major transport and urban reconstruction of the Baden-Württemberg's capital, including the building of a high-speed railway tunnel under the city. To this end, 300 old trees should be cut down. The authorities are also accused of a lack of transparency in the disbursement of multi-million funds for the project. In this province the Greens have doubled their score since the last elections to 24.1 percent, while in the northern Rhineland-Palatinate they have tripled it - from 4.6% to 15.4%. In both provinces, the Greens will govern in coalitions with the Social Democrats.

According to the magazine Der Spiegel, however, the main reason for the victory of the Greens is that they “have something the other parties can only dream of at the moment: a clear profile. They have credibility and they embody a vision.” Unlike, “the CDU will suffer a crisis of identity”, center-left Süddeutsche ZeitungWuertemberg predicted.

The variable position of Chancellor Merkel in terms of nuclear energy has also helped the Greens to get bigger support - after deciding to extend the life of German nuclear power plants last year, now the government began to close the reactors because of the disaster in Japan. German media have actively criticised this reversal of the Chancellor's position, though, and as The Financial Times Deutschland wrote, “it will never be known whether Merkel's abrupt U-turn on nuclear policy cost decisive votes or prevented an even worse outcome for her “. The center-left Berliner Zeitung commented: “Baden-Württemberg is like a nuclear disaster for her, an accident that is hard to get under control and carries the risk of a meltdown.”

The passive position of Germany regarding the military operation in Libya and the participation in the rescue fund for troubled partners in the euro area were also used as arguments by the government's political opponents.

The reasons for the election results, however, are far from limited to the current political issues and express a trend clearly observed in recent years. For Der Spiegel, political analyst Franz Walter commented that in recent years, the Greens and the center-left parties have had the support of a new centre of society, regardless if it was about the quality of life, values or nuclear energy. According to him, “Culturally, society's new centre has distanced itself step by step from the Christian Democratic and conservative-traditional world view.” It is a fact that the other traditional party - the Social Democrats, has also performed not very impressively in the local elections so far. Apparently German society, like other Europeans, is in a search of an alternative to the status quo.

The big question, however, is whether the poor performance of the ruling party will affect its rating on a national level and is there any chance Chancellor Merkel to win a third term in 2013 elections. Paradoxically at first glance, the answer to the last question is yes. Although it lost the first three state elections this year, the CDU is still the party with the greatest electoral support on national level. The bigger problem of Angela Merkel is the junior coalition partner - the Free Democratic Party, which is increasingly losing voters' confidence.

Therefore, many believe that the CDU will begin to woo the Greens as a potential coalition partner for the next term. In addition, German media commented, Angela Merkel is unrivaled in her party and is an expert in political survival. As Der Spiegel wrote, “No one is left to conduct a party putsch. The CDU is stuck with Merkel until the next election. She's the best they've got.”

While retaining majority in the Bundestag (the lower chamber of Parliament), the biggest problem of the ruling coalition comes from the fact that it has already lost its majority in the Bundesrat (the Federal Council), where the sixteen federal provinces are represented. If the Christian Democrats continue to lose state elections, the opposition might form a blocking majority, The Financial Times noted. This would be a problem not only for the domestic political survival of Chancellor Merkel, but for the whole of Europe. The forthcoming ratification of the European Treaty change, aimed at creating the permanent rescue fund for the euro area - the European Stability Mechanism, could be threatened. And as we have seen, the internal pressure can make Germany more hesitant and isolated on the European stage.

Undoubtedly, the next two years will be difficult for the German government. However, Der Spiegel wrote, “Merkel isn't going anywhere. After all, she has been preparing for such a difficult period for some time.”