In another sign that European voters are increasingly rejecting austerity, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats suffered a huge defeat in the country’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia. Support for the Christian Democrats fell from 35% to 26% with the Social Democrats under Hannelore Kraft winning 38.9%. With the Green Party winning 11.8%, Kraft should be able to form a left-wing coalition to govern the state.
Kraft could be the candidate to lead the Social Democrats against Merkel’s party and even succeed her as chancellor. During the campaign, the Social Democrats called for strengthening indebted local communities, investing more in education and strengthening the state’s business environment.
German voters rejected Merkel’s insistence on fiscal discipline and austerity as the remedy for debt, just as voters in France, Greece and Italy have. Socialist François Hollande recently defeated Merkel’s close ally, Nicholas Sarkozy, in France’s presidential election. Hollande will travel to Berlin on Tuesday following his inauguration and, says the New York Times, the Social Democrats’ success will give him a likely boost and “confidence in the difficult negotiations.”
The Pirate Party, with its platform of internet transparency, received 7.5% of the vote, enough to win seats in North Rhine-Westphalia, which will be the fourth state parliament it will enter, says the BBC. The pro-business Free Democrats took 8.5% and the Left, 2.5%.
North Rhine-Westphalia is home to a quarter of Germany’s 82 million people. According to Bloomberg, its gross domestic product last year was about 470 billion euros ($607 billion), about 20 percent of Germany’s GDP; its economy is ranked just behind Turkey’s and is larger than Switzerland’s. Nine out of the 30 companies, including Metro AG and Bayer AG, on Germany’s DAX index are located in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Gerd Langguth, a Merkel biographer and professor of politics at the University of Bonn, noted to Bloomberg that, while Merkel will “seek to ignore” the results, the defeat is a “massive loss in local prestige” for the Social Democrats. The loss is being called a “debacle” and a “disaster” in the German media and portends a difficult re-election campaign for Merkel, though her own popularity remains high, says the New York Times.
“Indignants” Rally in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol
In Spain, the “Indignants,” who have been protesting the economic crisis and austerity measures, returned to Puerta del Sol square in the capital, Madrid, just hours after being evicted. Many proclaimed their support for eighteen people detained by the police who had cleared the square on Saturday night. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to carry out harsh austerity measures — one “every Friday” — to combat Spain’s relapse into recession and unemployment of some 24%.
The “Indignants” have been holding marches across Spain to launch four days of protest, which will culminate on the anniversary of the movement’s birth, May 15, dubbed 15M.
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