The World From Berlin Election Debacle 'Will Shake CDU, But Won't Topple Merkel'

Sunday's defeat in Baden-Württemberg is a huge blow to Angela Merkel and her party, showing just how deeply opposed Germans are to nuclear power plants. Commentators say the chancellor will still be able to hold on to power. Some predict she will woo the Greens to clinch a third term in 2013.

Sunday's elections have left German Chancellor Angela Merkel damaged, but it is unlikely she will step down.

Sunday's elections have left German Chancellor Angela Merkel damaged, but it is unlikely she will step down.

The defeat of the conservative Christian Democratic Union party in Baden-Württemberg , a CDU bastion for 58 years, in an election on Sunday is a major blow to Chancellor Angela Merkel, the party's leader, but she will survive it, say German media commentators.

The victory of the Greens in the rich southwestern state shows that many mainstream voters have no faith in Merkel's sudden U-turn on nuclear policy following the Fukoshima disaster, and reflects the German public's aversion to atomic energy, editorial writers said.

For the CDU, losing Baden-Württemberg is as bad as the loss of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia was for the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) of then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in May 2005. Schröder responded by calling an early general election, which he lost. Merkel won't go down that path, though, say commentators.

For one, her conservative camp isn't as divided as the SPD was in 2005. Even though many in the CDU are worried and dissatisfied with her leadership right now, emotions aren't running high enough to become a danger to her.

Besides, there is no one within the party who could mount a serious challenge to the chancellor. Over the years, she has neutralized all potential rivals. The last one, Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg, took himself out of the running earlier this month when he resigned as defense minister over a plagiarism scandal.

But the writing is on the wall for Merkel and her center-right coalition if it doesn't regain the trust of voters ahead of the 2013 general election. The middle ground of German politics, a domain of the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, for so long, is shifting towards the Greens.

Merkel's controversial decision last year to extend the lifetimes of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors by an average of 12 years is coming back to haunt her, and she is out of touch with public opinion despite the three-month moratorium on that extension she hurriedly announced after Fukushima.

Commentators say Sunday's election in Baden-Württemberg, and one in the state of Rhineland-Palatine on the same day where the SPD just managed to hold on to power thanks to a surge in support for the Greens, marks a spectacular triumph for the Green Party, who will now have their first ever state governor, Winfried Kretschmann.

But it would be unwise to start writing off Merkel. Editorialists speculate that she will now begin wooing the Greens as a possible coalition partner to help her secure a third term after the 2013 election. Her current partner, the pro-business Free Democratic Party which suffered major losses in both state elections on Sunday, is looking too weak at this stage to be able to serve as queenmaker again.

Business daily Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"The bad news is that this result isn't bad enough to cause a real change in Berlin politics. The outcome permits interpretations in all directions, and the camps of Merkel supporters and opponents won't miss this opportunity. It will never be known whether Merkel's abrupt U-turn on nuclear policy cost decisive votes or prevented an even worse outcome for her party -- the debate over energy policy will now flare up again in her conservative camp."

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Merkel is already studying the Green Party, which could become important to her as a means to stay in power, as a replacement for the FDP. The long-term impact of the election will become evident in the coming months: Merkel doesn't want to be dragged down by her drowning coalition partner, the FDP. She will start to get interested in the Greens. She will sell her nuclear about-face as a switch to more ecological thinking. The things one does to stay in power! Anything, if need be. And she will reverse everything again if necessary."

"The CDU will suffer a crisis of identity. The FDP is already in an existential crisis which has now dramatically worsened. It will try to defuse that crisis by making leadership changes in the coming weeks."

Left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The CDU will hold party leader Angela Merkel accountable for the disaster. She will remain in office, simply because there is a lack of alternatives to her. But a policy debate is pre-programmed. The conservative wing is deeply worried and Merkel the modernizer will feel its wrath. The FDP, too, will have to make changes. The center-right coalition is at risk of collapsing before its term ends."

"Of course the nuclear disaster in Japan had an impact. But the Greens can justifiably claim that no one warned about the dangers of nuclear technology as consistently as they did. People know that Germany needs the Greens' core values in order to creater a viable energy and economic policy for the future. The Greens have been insisting on an energy turnaround for more than 30 years. After their landslide victory it's clear now that this epochal change in energy policy has just been launched."

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"This is a shock on a par with the SPD's loss of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2005 or the CSU's loss of its absolute majority in Bavaria during the last regional election. This earthquake will shake up the Berlin government -- this is particularly true of the lasting weakness of the FDP, which has been unable to field convincing government ministers in Baden-Württemberg and at the national level."

The tabloid Bild writes:

"The election is, of course, a major blow for the center-right coalition. Losing power in the conservative bastion of Baden-Württemberg will cause long-term pain. Angela Merkel knows that. She won't throw in the towel though. She has stronger nerves than Gerhard Schröder, who abruptly called an early general election when his SPD lost its stronghold of North Rhine-Westphalia."

The center-left Berliner Zeitung writes:

"What a debacle, what a catastrophe for the parties that see themselves as representing the middle ground! And what a fabulous success for the Greens! This is an upset that won't just affect the southwest but the entire republic."

"What does this mean for the chancellor? Does the defeat mean for her what the loss of North Rhine-Westphalia meant for Gerhard Schröder, the beginning of the end? There are two factors that suggest it doesn't. Six years ago, there was an outright rebellion in the SPD against Schröder's policies, whereas Merkel's CDU is merely grumbling. And Merkel's internal party rivals have all fallen by the wayside. But those factors shouldn't alleviate Merkel's concern. Baden-Württemberg is like a nuclear disaster for her, an accident that is hard to get under control and carries the risk of a meltdown. It could be that the political meltdown has started among the conservatives."

The center-left-Frankfurter Rundschau writes:

"Merkel must realize now that her coordinates are wrong because the political axis has shifted. There is a new definition of the bourgeois center ground as a group of people whom the conservative parties can no longer claim to solely represent and who don't see themselves as having any links with the conservatives. Former Governor Stefan Mappus, the loser, is the best example of this. He portrayed himself as a conservative hardliner, a role that naturally included giving vocal support for longer nuclear reactor lifetimes. But the new citizenry opposes nuclear power, just as it protested against the Stuttgart 21 rail project."

-- David Crossland


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