Like the two previous state elections in the Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein, state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) are a bad omen for the Social Democrat’s: The CDU received 33% of the votes (+6.7), bringing the SPD’s rule of a traditional stronghold and Germany’s most populous state to an end. The SPD dropped to 31.2% (-8). The liberal FDP got 12.6% (+4), delivering its strongest performance in the state ever. The Greens’ share of the vote almost halved to 6.4% (-4.9). The Left missed the threshold with 4,9% (+2,4). The far right AfD won 7.4% and is now represented in 13 state assemblies. The SPD already excluded the possibility to form a grand coalition in NRW. That makes a CDU-FDP coalition the most likely option: negotiations however will be slowed by Christian Linder, the party’s state and federal leader having ambitions for the federal level — it is unlikely that he will remain in NRW for long.
Hannelore Kraft (SPD), head of the deselected state government, already announced her withdrawal from her party posts on the evening of the election day. SPD party leader Martin Schulz tried to deflect the blame to NRW’s Hannelore Kraft, and promised to fight ever harder. In an interview, he outlined three not so new themes: Solidarity, “future” (meaning, mostly, education and digitisation) and Europe. While Ms Merkel already moved on to other issues, her Chancellor Minister Peter Altmaier pointed out the SPD’s weakness: “What is this party standing for?” The Social Democrats reacted hastily, and published their first draft for an election program, with little public notice. Perhaps thought as a test balloon, the paper outlines more taxation, education and welfare policies as well as strengthened security services but still has gaps regarding the most contentious issues.
Current polls show Ms Merkel (49%, +3) is ahead of Mr Schulz (36%, -4). Regarding party polls, the CDU scores 37% (+3). The SPD loses 4 points, dropping to 27%. The FDP, in its best result since 2010, would receive 8% (+2) if elections were this week. Greens (8%) and the Left (7%) stagnate. The far right AfD is at 10% (-1).
On EU affairs, Ms Merkel warned that Germany could move its soldiers from a Turkish army base if MPs aren’t allowed to visit. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel agreed, warning the Turkish Government of “blackmailing”.