Public Affairs & Government Relations

Update from Germany: SPD wins Hamburg elections while CDU decides on early leadership vote

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CDU to vote new leader on 25th April

News was rumoured in the morning, and party head Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) confirmed in the early afternoon that the Christian Democrats (CDU) will call an early extraordinary party conference on 25th April to elect a new leader, who will then be the “indication for the chancellor candidate”. The final candidate will have to be agreed in the end also with sister party CSU in Bavaria.

Over the past few days AKK spoke to potential candidates who had quickly emerged as likely options or made their interest public. All four of them come from North-Rhine Westphalia, the largest German state and powerful branch of the CDU:

  • Armin Laschet, prime minister of North-Rhine Westphalia, a moderate
  • Friedrich Merz, long-time foe of Angela Merkel and favourite of the CDU’s conservative wing
  • Norbert Roettgen, Bundestag MP and chairman of the foreign affairs committee, and the only one of the four who officially declared his interest so far
  • Jens Spahn, federal minister of health, a young political animal with a respectable track record in the office, and the ability to combine conservatism with modernism.

The process

AKK aligned the planned process within her party leadership, plus – and this will be relevant going forward – Markus Soeder, Bavarian minister president and powerful head of sister party CSU.

Those who want to participate in the contest will have to make their interest public by the end of this week. They will then be made candidates by way of nomination. Different from the last selection process in December 2018, the candidates will not present themselves at regional conferences. Instead, party members will be receiving information on the candidates in a process yet to be defined.


Hamburg state elections: SPD in the lead for renewed red-green coalition government

Based on preliminary election results from the Hamburg state elections, the Social Democrats (SPD) and their candidate Peter Tschentscher – incumbent mayor and coalition leader – achieved an impressive success and came out as clear winners with 39% of the votes (-6.6% versus 2015 elections). The Greens stayed well behind expectations of a few weeks back, when they were head to head in the polls with SPD at around 30%, but they achieved a strong 24.2% (+11.9% versus 2015), and SPD and Greens are widely expected to continue their coalition government, now with a stronger green stance.

The Christian Democrats (CDU) suffered a bitter defeat. Never a dominant force in Hamburg, CDU lost about a third of their votes securing only 11.2% in the end. Among young voters they merely got 5%.

Earlier in the evening, right-wing populists AfD seemed to not make it into Hamburg’s parliament, the “Bürgerschaft”. In the end they just made it over the threshold with 5.3% (-0.8% versus 2015).

The liberal FDP only won 5% according to preliminary results and their position is still not certain, as rumors this morning are that there were counting errors and FDP might still miss the entry into parliament.

Commentators see the main factors for the results in a very successful and person-focused campaign by SPD candidate Tschentscher, who took over from Olaf Scholz as mayor only two years ago. Tschentscher managed to not only keep out the national issues of the SPD (and national party representatives did not appear in his campaign), but also fended off a powerful attack by the Greens and their candidate Katharina Fegebank for government leadership.

This strong result for the SPD in Hamburg will be watched with interest within the party and may rekindle the leadership debate also on a national level, where the current leaders Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken have not been able to excite very much.

Both CDU and FDP suffered from their local actions in Thuringia in early February, where a surprise FDP candidate was elected with the votes of CDU and AfD to become Prime Minister, from which he consequently stepped down under pressure from the national party leaders. This debacle led to the announced resignation of AKK as CDU party leader two weeks ago and plunged the party in a serious leadership crisis, which is seen to have impacted results in Hamburg. The historically weak result therefore puts additional pressure on resolving the uncertainty over the party leadership and chancellor candidate.

The Hamburg elections further happened in the wake of the deadly attack by a racist-gunman in the city of Hanau near Frankfurt on Thursday last week, killing 11 people. Even so, AfD was able to achieve a mandate in Hamburg’s parliament.


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