The resounding win by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, constitutes a firm rejection of Chancellor Angela Merkel's main policies and sends a clear wider message. The election for the Landtag or state assembly was triggered in March, when the SPD Minister-President Hannelore Kraft failed to win the budget vote; this time, however, the electorate decisively backed Ms Kraft, whose party raised its share of the vote from 34.5 per cent to 39.1 while Ms Merkel's Christian Democratic Union crashed from 34.6 to 26.3. This was the CDU's worst showing in the province since 1949, though its ally, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), staged a revival of its own, winning 8.6 per cent. Now the highly respected and popular Ms Kraft will govern with the Greens, whose 11. 3 per cent will give the new coalition a sustainable working majority of 10 in the 181-seat assembly. For the record, the newly formed Pirate Party, which calls for greater openness in government through the use of technology, cleared the 5 per cent threshold, and its 7.8 per cent means it has gained provincial representation for the fourth consecutive time. Its reliance on lay personnel and a shoestring budget seem to be no disadvantage in view of its rising political appeal.

Provincial it may be but the implications of the North Rhine-Westphalian election are national, continental, and quite possibly global. To start with, this result will give the German social democrats renewed confidence, which will stand them in good stead as they prepare for the 2013 general election. Secondly, the vote, paralleled by a CDU defeat in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, is in keeping with the public anger shown in Greece, Spain, Italy, and Portugal, to name but four European Union states where public-spending cuts have sent economies on a downward slide, which by putting tens of millions out of work is jeopardising an entire generation's future. That German citizens, who accepted wage cuts following the 2008 financial crash, have put their weight into anti-austerity votes will rightly resonate across the EU and far beyond its borders; even in the Union's biggest, and the world's fourth largest, economic power the public is starting to show that it has had enough of financier-driven policies which only exacerbate shrinkage even as they leave those responsible for the crash sitting on hundreds of billions in taxpayer bailouts. The SPD now have every incentive to prepare and act on genuinely social-democratic policies in the confidence that the public will support them. They could also become an inspiration to social democrats around the world.


Taking German lessonsFebruary 22, 2012

Joachim Gauck sworn in as German presidentMarch 23, 2012

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