Germany on Edge
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|Sabine Guinsbourg||May 13th 2012|
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives suffered an embarrassing loss in the May 13 legislative election in Germany's most populous state as she continues pushing for economic austerity in Europe.
Preliminary results show the opposition left-wing Social Democrats winning 39 percent of the vote in North Rhine-Westphalia. Merkel's Christian Democrats won 26 percent. The Social Democrats will likely form a coalition with the Greens in the state. The conservative candidate for governor, German environment minister Norbert Roettgen, calls the May 13 election a bitter defeat that really hurts. Some German political analysts say the results in North Rhine-Westphalia may be a harbinger of next year's federal election, in which Chancellor Merkel plans to seek another term
Merkel is still calling for economic austerity across Europe even after voters in Greece and France last week ousted parties that back deep spending cuts. She plans to hold her first meeting with France's incoming socialist president, Francois Hollande, after his inauguration this week.
Roettgen irritated his party, the Christian Democrats, having declared that the election would decide "whether Angela Merkel's course in Europe is strengthened or whether it is weakened by the re-election of a pro-debt government in Germany." Merkel told the Ruhr Nachrichten newspaper last week that the vote is "an important state parliament election for North Rhine-Westphalia -- no more, no less". However, the Die Zeit daily commented under the headline 'How much longer?' that the vote would be a "fateful day" for the the embattled Merkel. "Angela Merkel is at the peak of her power -- and knows, now it becomes quite tough," it said.
Polls in Germany consistently show that Merkel's party is the biggest in the country. Polls forecast, however, a parliamentary majority neither for her center-right coalition - notorious for infighting - nor for the Social Democrats and Greens, who ran Germany from 1998 to 2005. The upshot may be that when the national election is held, Merkel will remain chancellor, albeit with a new coalition partner.