Elections in a small East German state with fewer people than Berlin could have marked a turning point in a year will determine what happens to Angela Merkel as head of Europe’s largest economy.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union achieved a memorable victory in Saxony-Anhalt on Sunday, garnering 37 percent of the vote – seven percentage points more than in the last state election in 2016 and a 16-point lead over the second-ranked far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
The result gave a huge boost to Armin Laschet, CDU candidate for chancellor in September’s Bundestag election, which has been obscured in recent weeks by the populace Verdi. But the eco-party behaved miserably in Saxony-Anhalt, marking only 5.9 per cent.
Many in the CDU say the result has shown that the light of the Greens is fading. “They have lost their magic,” said Christoph Ploss, head of the CDU in Hamburg.
Saxony-Anhalt could mark the end of a dry spell for the CDU. The party was beaten by a corruption scandal involving some of its parliamentarians, a bitter struggle between Laschet and Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder over who should run for center-right chancellor, and public frustration over the slow start to the Covid-19 vaccination campaign.
Some in the party are now hoping that the tide will be turned. The lifting of the six-month coronavirus lockdown and the prospect of normal summer vacations have improved voter mood, resulting in a poll boost for the CDU and a higher approval rating for Laschet.
Driven by Sunday’s result, some Christian Democrats are drawing parallels with a crucial moment in recent German political history – the dramatic derailing of the so-called “Schulz train” in 2017.
That year, the Social Democrats were at the top of the polls and their leader, Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, seemed on the course to remove Merkel from chancellor in the autumn elections.
But the wheels went out of their campaign after two regional elections that brought convincing victories for the CDU: Saarland in March and North Rhine-Westphalia in May. The SPD ended up getting 20.5 percent in the national election, its worst result since the war.
Friedrich Merz, a prominent CDU politician, suggested that Green MP Annalena Baerbock had a media honeymoon after being nominated as the Greens ’first candidate for chancellor in April. “This evening the Baerbock train derailed,” he wrote on Twitter Sunday evening.
“Baerbock was exalted exactly as Schulz was,” Ploss said. “But now it’s been measured against different rules. People are starting to think about what a Green government would mean, and they realize that a lot would change for the worse.”
Asked Monday if he agreed with the Schulz analogy, Laschet demonstrated. “These comparisons with trains – I don’t do them myself,” he said. “[Baerbock] it’s my main competitor, and I take all competitors seriously. ”
But, he added, the result of the Greens in Saxony-Anhalt could hardly be described as Baerbock-induced “mega-wave” as the Greens landed in fifth place, behind the pro-trade Free Democrats, traditionally one of the smaller parties in the Bundestag.
Baerbock’s campaign was in full swing strong head winds even before Sunday’s result. She was forced to apologize last month after admitting she had failed to report to parliament a portion of her income from the Green Party leadership, as requested, until this March. The Greens were also forced to make changes to it Official CV after the local media revealed inaccuracies. She said, for example, that she was a member of the UNHCR when she had just supported an organization that raises money for the UN refugee agency.
However, experts say the comparison with Schulz is not appropriate. “In 2017 the SPD bubble widened and burst in the space of a few months,” said Robert Vehrkamp, a political scientist with the Bertelsmann Foundation, a think tank.
“The Greens have voted firmly now for the last two [to] three years and they still did well in the regional elections in that period. I don’t have a flash in the pan. ”
The CDU should also resist drawing too many conclusions from the Saxony-Anhalt race, experts say. The state, once part of communist East Germany, accounts for only 3 percent of the country’s voting age population. It’s also unusual for it to be an AfD stronghold, which scored 21 percent on Sunday. After polls suggested the right-wing party could win right, many leftists sought to stop it by changing their allegiance to the CDU. Such electoral behavior is unlikely to happen on a national scale.
Sunday’s vote does not mean disaster for the Greens, analysts say. “His train didn’t jump.” [off] the rails, “said Vehrkampt.” But it is clear that it will be a much more rewarding journey than they might have hoped for. ”