German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) have now won their third regional election and their biggest yet. In this election the CDU have wrestled away an opponent’s stronghold in form of the North Rhine-Westphalia province. The North Rhine-Westphalia went to the Social Democrats (SPD) – Germany’s center-left socialist party and the CDU’s main rival from 1980 to 2005, then from 2010 to 2017 as well.
Though Merkel and the CDU are not unpopular in Germany, this victory comes as a surprise. Westphalia had been a historically industrial and populous province, making it a strong fit for the Social Democrats. On top of that, the SPD found a fresh new face to the party in Martin Schulz, Merkel’s new challenger. Schulz is very much a man of the people. Before entering politics he had beaten alcoholism, overcome an injury that knocked him out of soccer and opened up his own book store.
Despite bringing out a fresh new face and fighting over a historic stronghold, the SPD still fell around 8 percentage points from the last election cycle to lose to the CDU. To make matters worse for the SPD, this forecasts an even bigger win for the CDU in the general election coming up in just 4 months. Schulz initially gave a big boost to the SPD’s polling numbers but now they’ve returned to the lower levels they were running without him at the helm. SPD is sticking by Schulz, however, with SPD party leader Hannelore Kraft stepping down after the loss in a move that many expect was to shield Schulz.
Merkel’s challenges are not totally over, however, as she still must contend with a rising far-right party in Germany and controversies over her stance on immigration and allowing refugees within the country. Although, this election has proven that Merkel is the woman to beat in Germany. For Europeans trying to keep the continent open and in union, Merkel’s victory may matter as much as French centrist Emmanuel Macron’s.
CDU leader and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo by Aleph, April 30th, 2008, via Wikimedia Commons.