Carsten Brzeski's blog

Germany: First test for Schulz

Sunday’s elections in Saarland will officially start the German election year. Federal politicians will closely follow the results for any meaning or sign for the September elections.

Next Sunday, the German election year will start. While from an international perspective, the national elections on 24 September will be the political highlight of the year, Germany will already see three state elections in the next seven weeks – in Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia. On Sunday, the second smallest federal state in terms of population, Saarland, will kick-off the election season.

Saarland only accounts for roughly 1% of the German population but should get more media and political attention than usual as the elections will be the first elections since Martin Schulz was nominated as the SPD’s front-runner for the federal elections. Since then, the SPD has surged in opinion polls and Schulz seems to have become a serious contender for Angela Merkel. Even though recent opinion polls showed that the Saarland elections should be mainly dominated by regional issues, politicians at the federal level will try to find some meaning or signs for the September elections.

Currently, the Saarland government consists of a so-called grand coalition between CDU and SPD, headed by the CDU’s Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. According to recent polls, the SPD (expected to get around 33% of the votes) could narrow, though not close, the current gap with the CDU (currently at around 36%). The left-wing party “Die Linke” is traditionally big in Saarland as it benefits from former SPD-politician, former prime-minister of Saarland and former German finance minister Oscar Lafontaine running as their local front-runner. The AfD is currently expected to enter parliament with some 7% of the votes. The Greens and Liberals would according to the latest polls not get enough votes to get above the 5%-threshold required to enter parliament.

Even though the Saarland is far too small for the election result to have a significant meaning for the federal elections in September, observers and politicians will at least try to look for a symbolic meaning. In this regards, there are in our view three important aspects of the Saarland elections: (i) will the CDU remain the largest party or could it lose votes, eventually losing another state government; (ii) the SPD’s results will be closely related to Martin Schulz and the current Schulz-hype. Will it continue or get a first setback?; and (iii) what about the AfD? Currently losing electoral support at the federal level, can the AfD enter the eleventh (out of 16) state parliaments?