Germany recently had regional elections in the Laender of Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia. The results show very similar patterns that will hopefully be understood on the federal level.
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In all three cases, the Christian Democrats (CDU) were highly successful, while the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens were the losers. It appears that the CDU’s success in all three regions was based on solid local programs and strong leading candidates.
Perhaps this marks a break with practices that have ruined Europe’s mainstream parties and created opportunities for new challengers from the periphery of the political spectrum. In Germany and more generally in Europe, Christian Democrats had widely neglected their identity as Christians, while the Social Democrats gave up representing the interests of working people. Liberals showed signs of complacency as well.
Now we see that the CDU’s main candidates in all three regions are committed, practicing Christians, whose values are also mirrored in their campaign platforms. They honor worthwhile traditions but have also developed sound programs on important regional issues such as education and infrastructure.
The three candidates – Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in Saarland, Daniel Guenther in Schleswig-Holstein, and Armin Laschet in North Rhine-Westphalia – are all down-to-earth people. This quality may have caused them to be underestimated by their opponents, but it won respect from the voters.
The way back
The other big success in these elections was scored by the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), given up for dead by some after they were shut out of the Bundestag in the 2013 federal elections. The FDP has also found its way back to its classic liberal ideas, and was rewarded by the voters.
Last weekend’s loss in North Rhine-Westphalia was a critical blow to the SPD, which had always treated the region as a stronghold.
The stage is now set for the German federal elections in September. The outlook is very promising for the Christian Democrats, but only if the party leadership, and especially Chancellor Angela Merkel, gets the message from these three local elections.
To succeed in September, Mrs. Merkel must drop her favorite strategy of adopting the agendas of other parties
This means dropping Mrs. Merkel’s favorite strategy of adopting the agendas of other parties to attract their followers, while abandoning genuine Christian Democratic principles. This is likely to happen, since the chancellor has always shown a strong pragmatic streak.
Germany has always done best when ruled by a coalition with the CDU as the main party and the FDP as the junior partner. The problem with this arrangement today is that Mrs. Merkel has made a practice of cannibalizing and eliminating her junior partners. This diminishes the likelihood that the FDP would consent to enter a coalition with the Christian Democrats, even if both parties are successful in the September elections.
One hopes the skeletons in Mrs. Merkel’s closet will not come back to haunt her political future.