Angela Merkel defiant despite her party’s defeat in Lower Saxony
German chancellor says bloody nose for CDU in local vote will not hit negotiating stance in national coalition talks.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has denied that a defeat by her party in a regional election has weakened her position before complex coalition negotiations to form a new government.
Just three weeks after her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) posted its worst national election result, the party suffered a surprise defeat in Lower Saxony to the Social Democrats (SPD). Until August, the CDU had a clear lead in the polls.
At a press conference on Monday, Merkel admitted that talks between the CDU, the pro-business FDP and the Greens – a potential alliance nicknamed the Jamaica coalition due to their party colours – would not be straightforward. But she rejected the widespread view that her hand was weakened by Sunday’s result.
“It is clear to us that these will not be easy talks.” she said. “But the Lower Saxony election result does not mean that we will enter the Jamaica negotiations weakened.”
Merkel said the CDU’s result was being talked down, and argued that her party “didn’t get that many fewer voters than last time Lower Saxony voted.”
Urging her potential coalition partners to put Germany ahead of party politics, she said: “The questions we now have to ask ourselves are: ‘what does Germany need? What sort of problem-solving should a government be offering the people?’”
Many commentators, including some within her own party, believe Merkel is failing to recognise the unpopularity of her open border migration policy, which is believed to have led to the drop in support for the CDU.
Wolfgang Steiger, general secretary of the CDU’s economic advisory council, accused Merkel of having arrogantly glossed over the results of the 24 September election, in which the CDU secured 33% of the vote, its lowest share since 1949.
“The clue to the defeat in Hanover (Lower Saxony’s capital) is unfortunately to be found in the evening of the election of 24 September when the horrific losses of 8% were sugar-coated as if they were a strategic victory,” Steiger told German media. He said Lower Saxony’s voters had punished Merkel for saying on election night that the CDU had “done everything right”.
Horst Seehofer, the embattled leader of the Bavaria-based CSU, which lost 10 percentage points in September’s election, is leading calls within the conservative alliance for the parties to shift to the right or risk losing more ground to the rightwing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD).
While Merkel has so far resisted, her weakened position will make it harder for her to shake off his demands. He is also likely to feel emboldened by the rise of the right following Sunday’s election in neighbouring Austria.
But Peter Tauber, general secretary of the CDU, said as all three parties involved in the national coalition talks had lost support in Lower Saxony, he did not think it would have a big influence on the talks. “It’s not wise to consider this as something that will weigh us down,” he said.
In Lower Saxony, home to the beleaguered carmaker Volkswagen, the SPD secured 36.9% of the vote, the CDU 33.6%, the Greens 8.7%, and the FDP 7.5%. The far-left party Die Linke secured just 4.6%, below the 5% hurdle needed to enter parliament. AfD will enter Lower Saxony’s parliament for the first time having secured 6.2% by luring thousands of voters from the CDU in particular. However its support was considerably less than the 12.6% it secured nationally last month.
The SPD’s strong showing takes some of the pressure off Martin Schulz, the party’s leader, who would have come under pressure to resign had the party lost. The SPD has lost three regional elections under his stewardship, as well as posting its worst parliamentary election result since 1949.
Schulz called the result in Lower Saxony a “wonderful victory” for the SPD. But the party faces similar problems to the CDU on the national stage, because it will have to form either a three-party coalition or a grand coalition with the CDU, because the SPD and Greens did not secure enough of the vote between them.
The Lower Saxony vote had hindered coalition talks between the CDU and its sister party, the Christian Social Union, on the one hand, and the FDP and Greens on the other, because the latter two were cautious not to be seen to give too much ground lest it affect voter support.
Now there is nothing standing in the way. On Wednesday, the first so-called “soundings” are due to take place in Berlinbetween the CDU/CSU and first the FDP, followed by the Greens. On Thursday the FDP and Greens will meet separately before all the parties come together for the first time on Friday, with the aim of finding common topics. But it could be Christmas before a coalition is in place.