The largest state in Germany – North Rhine Westphalia, with 18m people, over a fifth of the German nation – has been voting today and the exit polls suggest that the current minority red-green coalition of the SPD and the Greens will achieve an outright majority, with over 50% of the popular vote – exit polls say the Greens remained on 12% and the SDP regained the votes they lost in 2010, rising from 35% to 39%.
But the big story really has to be the continuing decline of Chancellor Merkel’s CDU, who – again, this is according to exit polls, and I’ll update later when the final tally is in – saw their vote decline by a quarter from 35% to 26%. With Germany’s General Election due next year, this almost makes Merkel’s administration a lame duck, and it can’t even be blamed on the collapse of her coalition partners the FDP (whose vote again held up, as it did last week in Schelswig-Holstein).
In Germany’s most populous state, covering cities like Dusseldorf and Cologne, this is a major blow, and, coupled with Hollande’s ascent to the French Presidency, will put German-led austerity in Europe under increasing pressure this summer. The 23 May informal summit of EU leaders will not quite see Merkel isolated, but certainly increasingly embattled.
By the way, a lot of the comment will focus on the entry into yet another state legislature of the ultimate post-modern fringe party, the Pirates, up from 2% to 8%. But as in Schleswig-Holstein’s regional elections last weekend, their entry into the legislature has seen the left-wing Die Linke party exit the stage. So yet again, Germany has given only minimal support to the narrative that says voters are abandoning traditional, centrist parties for the extremes.