A Test Run for the Federal Elections?
On 14 March, state elections were held in the states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Both located in the South-West of Germany, both expected to be foretelling for the federal elections in September. However, this year’s elections take place under the exceptional condition of the pandemic which leaves room for the unexpected.
Green Signal to Berlin
State premier Winfried Kretschmann achieved the best election result ever for the Greens and the party are of course celebrating this victory as a tailwind for the federal election. The momentum is there, for now. However, Kretschmann’s course cannot simply be copied by the federal party leaders Habeck and Baerbock.
On the one hand, the Greens in Baden-Wuerttemberg are above all Winfried Kretschmann who is probably the most pragmatic and conservative Green in the entire party. And, as commentators put it, in this state election it was mainly the personalities who played a role. Even large sections of CDU voters in Baden-Wuerttemberg wanted Kretschmann as state premier. They know him, they trust him. It is not the Greens, but him who was decisive for the result.
The same applies to state premier Malu Dreyer and the SPD in Rhineland-Palatinate. Here, the Greens only achieved a single-digit result that was below the polls. With a view to the federal party, this can hardly be interpreted as a tailwind.
Concerning the federal elections, the Kretschmann model is only of limited use. Unlike the Greens in the state, the Greens in Germany must also win over the “left” of the party, who would be difficult to convince to follow Kretschmann’s course.
What could benefit the Greens at federal level, however, would be no continuation of the green-black government coalition in Baden-Wuerttemberg. At the moment, a “traffic light coalition” under Green leadership is also possible. Some strategists within the party believe it would mean more independence for the Greens, who have been widely seen part of a black-green federal government. And the Greens certainly do not want to be locked into a coalition. Keeping it open in all directions is the motto, for as long as possible. No democratic alliance, and thus no potential voter, should be excluded.
Doomsday Scenario for CDU and CSU
While the Greens experience a flight of fancy, two historically bad election results in the once CDU-dominated southwest prove that things are getting worse and worse for the CDU right now. Six months ahead of federal elections, the party has not one problem but many. The biggest is that yesterday’s state elections clearly show: Governing without the CDU is possible. The election evening was a reviving experience as it became clear to many people that the CDU is not a permanent tenant in the chancellor’s office. Just imagine! Germany can be governed not only without Angela Merkel, but also without her party.
The CDU had prepared for the worst, raised firewalls and lowered expectations – all for nothing. The poor performance in Baden-Wuerttemberg is tantamount to humiliation and the CDU must hope that it may yet be allowed to remain the shrunken junior partner alongside the Greens. And in Rhineland-Palatinate, the CDU once again has no chance against Malu Dreyer’s SPD. Clearly, its problems go far beyond two lost state elections.
The party is in the middle of several crises at the same time, all of which have the potential to lose the chancellorship in the fall. The news that CDU/CSU deputies made money from the pandemic by collecting commissions for brokering mask sales is a disaster. The affair has cost the Christian Democrats much of their credibility. It is coming up against an increasingly thin-skinned society in which many people are fed up with the chaos of vaccinations and tests, the confusion of incidences and the wait for Corona aid.
Evidently, the CDU is in the process of losing its core competence of strong leadership through crises. For that is precisely what the CDU-led federal government is doing less and less successfully.
The Endless Saga of Choosing a Candidate for Chancellor: Laschet or Söder?
There is still half a year to go until federal elections and thus enough time to turn the mood around from the Christian Democrats’ point of view and avoid falling into a downward spiral – quite possibly with a convincing candidate for chancellor at the helm. The only problem is, there is none. Armin Laschet, CDU party leader and potential candidate, is to decide together with CSU leader Markus Söder on this matter between Easter and Whitsun.
In Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, Winfried Kretschmann and Malu Dreyer were elected as two strong political personalities. This could also be a recipe for success for the federal government and leads to the question: Would it be better to go with Markus Söder, who likes to flex his political muscles, rather than with mousy yet popular Armin Laschet?
Frankly, Söder is in a much more comfortable position overall. Not only does he have far fewer issues to deal with than Laschet. He is also under less pressure, for he does not have to be a candidate for chancellor, he can. No one really knows whether he really wants to. Söder would risk a lot politically, because whether Germany would go for a Bavarian as chancellor for the first time is pretty uncertain. Certainly, the pressure on Laschet will increase further after these state elections. He must now quickly seek a decision with Söder since the unanswered question of chancellor candidate is another destabilizer to their party.
Play of Colors – A Look at Coalition Talks
The coalition negotiations are on in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. How the parties go about these will be interesting to watch. Kretschmann in Baden-Wuerttemberg has a free choice of partners. A Green-led “traffic light coalition” with SPD and FDP could be one outcome. In Rhineland-Palatinate, Dreyer can and would like to continue the SPD-led “traffic light coalition” with the Greens and FDP. The CDU is not needed to govern in either state – ouch. This creates a new dynamic that is dangerous for the Christian Democrats: a traffic light alliance as a possible option for the federal government.
The Social Democrats are pleased to see that the basic assumption of a black-green federal government is slowly faltering. The Greens, too, are keen to avoid the impression that an alliance with the CDU/CSU at the federal level is already a foregone conclusion. Next Friday, the Greens will present their election program. Then it will become clear how much of Kretschmann’s touch can be found at national level.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. A lot can happen until 26 September. It is still completely unclear how the Corona pandemic will develop by then and what economic consequences the country will have to deal with. In other words, the die is not yet cast.
Preliminary Official Final Results
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