Angela Merkel on the upswing

Wednesday, 15 Mai 2017 – written by Magnus Ehrenberg

A year ago, barely a few observers thought that Angela Merkel and her party would be able to win the election to the Bundestag on September 24th. Now almost no one gives her main opponent a chance. 


First it was Saarland, then Schleswig-Holstein followed. Now Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has won yet another state election, this time in her main contender’s heartland, the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia was hard on the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) chancellor candidate Martin Schulz, as the state is both his and his party’s so called ‘’home’’. Since 2012, SPD has led the state in a red-green majority government together with environmental party Bündnis ‘90/Die Grünen. Former president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz was far from happy on election evening. The state election with 13 million eligible voters is known as “the small election to the Bundestag”.


Angela Merkel’s critics have been numerous – even within her own party and especially within its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). She had to face her harshest criticism for her famous words Wir schaffen das: at the peak of the refugee crisis, Angela Merkel refused to close the borders. She wanted to show that there is a human Germany, a country that shows openness. Thousands of Germans wanted the same and the country’s many voluntary organizations helped families that had suffered on their way through Europe to get to Germany. Many of those who have helped and are helping have parents who previously escaped from territories that Germany had to give up after World War II.


It is in the DNA of many Germans that you need to help if you have the opportunity, especially when it’s going well for the country, as it does today.


Many of Merkel’s supporters are middle-class voters. And many who voted for the CDU in the state election do not identify with the SPD’s criticism against social injustice and the party’s slogan ‘’more justice for everyone’’.


At the state election in Nordrhein-Westfalen, more than a half million voters went directly from the SPD to the CDU. At the same time, the CDU has become more clear-cut on domestic policies. In Germany, police issues are regulated on the state level and after the violence in Cologne last year, where young men in groups exposed women to sexual abuse, the SPD has received a lot of criticism. Two issues that the CDU brought up in the state elections are the importance of law and order and the extension of schooling years to leave more time for learning.


With a bourgeois agenda like this, the CDU certainly also appeals to right-wing voters. This may be one of the reasons why the extreme right-wing party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) received only about 7 percent of the votes on Sunday’s elections. In previous election forecasts, the AfD managed to gather up to 12 percent at times.


Even the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) is on a clear rising path while Bündnis ‘90/Die Grünen’s lost half of its votes and barely managed to re-enter the NRW parliament. At the state election in Schleswig-Holstein on May 7, the FDP came out ahead and most people expect the party to re-enter the Bundestag after the federal elections on September 24. This could result in Angela Merkel having several government options to choose from. Today she rules with a weary SPD. Thus, a coalition between the CDU/CSU, the FDP and Die Grünen is a conceivable outcome of the next election.


Some wondered why Angela Merkel did not appear on television after the big win in North Rhine-Westphalia. She can prioritize like no other: it was Mother’s Day in Germany and Merkel spend the day with her mother on the former Swedish Island of Rügen. This unpretentiousness might be one of the reasons for her popularity.


Photo: "Angela Merkel" by Philipp / CC BY 2.0