Carsten Brzeski's blog

Germany: Under the French shadow

Regional elections in Schleswig-Holstein brought a disappointment for the Social Democrats and a victory for Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Another small appetizer for the national elections in September. While yesterday, all international eyes were on the second round of the French presidential elections, some 2 million Germans also went to the ballots – in the small regional state of Schleswig-Holstein. Even though the state is not representative for the political mood in Germany, the result was a clear disappointment for Martin Schulz and his Social Democratic party.

Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) received 33% of the vote, up from 30.8% in the 2012 election. The Social Democrats (SPD) and the current minister-president won 26% of the vote, down from 30.4%. The Green Party came in as the third largest party with 13% of the vote, defying the latest declining trend in national polls. The liberal party, FDP, came in at almost 11%, while the AfD marginally made it into parliament with some 5.5% of the vote.

With these results, the SPD will not be able to continue its government coalition with the Greens and the South Schleswig Party (SSW), which represents the ethnic Danish minority.

Schleswig-Holstein is too small for yesterday’s regional elections to have a meaningful impact on the national elections in September. Still, the symbolic impact is undeniable: the so-called “Schulz effect”, which boosted the SPD in national opinion polls in the first months of the year after Martin Schulz had been announced as front-runner for the elections, has so far failed to materialize. The SPD has been defeated by the CDU is two regional elections this year.

Regional elections in Germany are always decided by a mix of regional and national issues. They are not necessarily a vote on national politics, particularly not if the “hot” topics in the regional state are not identical with the national ‘hot’ topics. Nevertheless, the first real and also last general-repetition for the national elections will be next Sunday, when voters in North Rhine-Westphalia go to the ballots. Then, international eyes will return to Germany and German politics should step out from under the French shadow.