Merkel unfazed by major shakeup of German party system in three state elections

More than 12 million Germans were eligible to elect new state parliaments in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt. In the public debate, the elections were mainly framed as a vote over a single issue: Angela Merkel’s refugee policy. The results proved to be a major loss for her.


The right-wing and anti-immigration party AfD managed to enter all three state parliaments, winning double-digit results in all three states. In Saxony-Anhalt, the AfD even won 24.4%, making it the second largest party after the Christian Democrats (CDU) of Ms. Merkel, which managed to win 29.8%. The Social Democrats (SPD) meanwhile lost more than 10% and were dwarfed to 10.2% behind the socialist Left Party which won 16.3 percent.

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In Baden-Wuerttemberg the ruling Green Party received an all-time high with 30.3% of the votes, while the CDU, which had been the strongest party in the south-western state for more than 60 years until yesterday, lost 11% bringing it down to 27%. The AfD also managed to win 15.1% in the state, putting it in third place before the SPD, currently the junior partner in government, which fell to 12.7%.

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In the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate the ruling SPD is set to remain in power, getting small gains to 36.2%. The CDU lost around 3% and now is at 31,8%. The Greens barely managed to cross the 5% threshold needed for representation in Parliament. Meanwhile, the AfD managed to win 12.6%.

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While the State Premiers of all three states were re-elected, the make-up of governments is set to change as none of the governing coalitions received a majority again.

Impact on Federal and European Politics

These results show a strong dissatisfaction with Ms. Merkels current policy. The huge success of the AfD can be traced back to this fact, as it was the only party that really questioned the current cross-party consensus regarding migration policy, putting itself up for a radical change in coalition policies and representing nationalistic ideals. Voters of the AfD were not only disappointed former voters of other parties (primarily the governing parties SPD and CDU), but also many non-voters, leading to a high voting turnout in all three states.

The results also proved to be a substantial loss for the Social Democrats. While they won one state convincingly, the results in the other two states were devastating and put another dent into Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel’s bid to become candidate for chancellor in next year’s federal election. This could lead to more quarries within the government.

Overall, the impact on the stability of the current federal government figures to be rather low, though. There is no indication that any of the parties currently in the federal parliament will leave the current course in immigration policy, even as support for Ms. Merkel dwindles on the issue. Ms. Merkel on the whole still is in a strong position, both given a relatively high approval rating (54 percent in the most recent poll) and given the lack of alternatives. Even though all three states figure to be governed by new coalitions, this will not change majorities in Germany’s state chamber Bundesrat, either.

Yet, the elections point to a stronger fragmentation of Germany’s overall party system in the future. The upcoming coalition negotiations in all three states figure to be a first test of these new realities. This will make the country more similar to most other European countries and also the make-up of the European Parliament with substantial right and left-wing blocks and a strong political center of conservatives and social-democrats, liberal-democrats and Greens.

The most important event coming up will be the EU summit on March 17th and 18th and the question whether it is possible to find a European solution for the refugee crisis or not. The German Federal Government’s goal and expectation is clear: a European solution together with Turkey. Ms. Merkel and other members of government expressed confidence to find a solution. The outcome of the summit will decisively determine the public debates in the near future and answer the question, whether those election results are just snapshots in the light of the current situation or the start of a new order in the German political landscape.

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