The elections in Nordrhein-Westfalen – the biggest state of Germany, with 18 million inhabitants – turned into catastrophy for the social democrats SPD and the red-green coalitions in Dusseldorf and Berlin.
SPD registred their worst election result in the state for 50 years, and now have to leave the state government they have been in for no less than 39 years. It’s quite something.
There is little doubt that what proved the undoing of the red-greens was their failure to deliver on their promises on employment. In the industrial hearth area of Germany, unemployment remained very high. In its true bastions, the SPD failed on its number one issue.
They could not give convincing answers to the worries that people had for the future in our increasingly open and increasingly changing world. Their old stories had no relevance in a new situation.
In a surprise move, Chancellor Schröder said that he will now seek new federal elections instead of the slow march to an almost certain political death in the regular September 2006 elections. He obviously made the assessment that the aftershocks of the NRW election would not only tear his SPD apart but would also make it de facto impossible to conduct government policy in the coming year.
It’s not entirely straightforward under the German constitution how this can be done. A similar move was done in 1982, but wasn’t entirely uncontroversial. We’ll see.
A quick opinion poll just hours after the announcement on new federal election indicated that 67 % thought it was a good idea, and that 70 % believed it was going to work out to the benefit of the opposition.
What we have seen in Nordrhein-Westfalen tonight is thus in all probability the beginning of the end of red-green rule in Germany with important ramifications for all of Europe.
But nothing can be taken for granted. The opposition in CDU and CSU was taken by surprise along with everyone else, and will now have to agree very fast on a number of issues.
The first and most important is who will be their candidate for chancellor.
In all probability, it will be the CDU leader Angela Merkel. A girl from former East Germany, her constituency is as close to Sweden as one gets.
It’s only a question of how long it will take for Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber and CSU Chairman to announce that he support Angela Merkel. The sooner, the better.
But then CDU and CSU has to come together on a credible and clear programs for reforms in Germany and Europe. Tensions between the two parties on this have been much too obvious during the past year, with the CSU being more reluctant to face thre though issues that have to be tackled.
Now, these tensions have to be overcome if the momentum from tonight shall be carried forward to and during a federal election campaign sometimes during the autumn.
And it will also be of importance to see how the SPD decides to shape its political profile during the coming campaign. The strident anti-capitalist message launched in the NRW campaign obviously did not help, but that’s no guarantee that this neoleftist approach will be abandoned.
It will be an unusually interesting summer in Germany.