Something clearly is rotten in a state next to Denmark for Germany´s Social Democrats (SPD), fighting to oust Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democrats (CDU) in this year´s general election in September after 12 years in office. That is because the SPD lost this weekend´s elections in the most northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein which resulted in a clear victory for the CDU who ended up more than 5 percentage points ahead, running with a young nobody with a boyish grin who didn´t even know he was going to be candidate some six months ago.
For the Social Democrats, this is a major blow: It is the second state election this year which went against them, they will this time likely even lose a minister president, and the outcome reinforces nagging doubts that their contender for Merkel´s job, former President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, offers less of a promise to voters in reality than in polls. Schulz, whose campaign took off tremendously in the weeks after his inauguration, conceded as much himself, saying the Schleswig-Holstein vote went “under his skin”, and that he was “angry as hell.”
For the CDU, it´s exactly the opposite: For the first time in Angela Merkel´s chancellorship, a Christian Democrat in opposition was able to topple an acting state minister president, and their new political star, Daniel Günther, 43, is prove that the party is able to present new faces from a younger generation with a winner´s DNA. If Günther plays his cards well in the weeks ahead, he can become minister president of a coalition built on his own party in the lead, with both Greens and Liberals (FDP) as junior partners (both performed well). Thus, Schleswig-Holstein has the potential to even serve as a model for a new majority on national level. Other possible options are either another grand coalition with the Christian Democrats in the lead, or a much more fragile alliance of SPD, Greens and FDP.
Schulz, that much is clear, will have to readjust his campaign strategy. So far, he has managed just by promising justice, dignity and respect for all, but it´s clear now that these lofty concepts, despite their appeal at first sight, will need to get beefed up by political substance.
Meanwhile, time is running fast. In six days the last of this year´s state elections are due, in Germany´s most populous state of Northrhine-Westfalia. The place is home to some 17 million people, it is by tradition what the Social Democrats call their “heart chamber”, and it is run by a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens with a track record far from shining. Much is at stake, and in the run-up to election day, pollsters claim they have discovered both major parties are head-to-head in the final sprint.
If Northrhine-Westfalia went wrong for the Social Democrats, their chances of success in September would be very slim indeed.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees.
With over 25 years’ experience in journalism, political communications, and consulting, Mr. Kothé advises companies seeking relevant impact with politics and politicians. He founded FTI Consulting’s public affairs practice in Berlin in 2010. Previously, he served as spokesperson for German Federal President Horst Köhler. He also headed the communications and media team of the German liberal party, FDP. Starting his career in journalism at the BBC’s World Service in London, Mr. Kothé has also worked as a senior parliamentary correspondent for Germany’s news channel n-tv.