A Blow to the Center of Austerirty

Even as attention was drawn to the struggle to put together a Greek government and the possibility of that country’s exit from the eurozone, the forces of the status quo took a more direct hit from the major losses suffered by Angela Merkel’s party in another German state election, this time in the country’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, per this report from Reuters’ Stephen Brown:

The election in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), a western German state with a bigger population than the Netherlands and an economy the size of Turkey, was held 18 months before a national election in which Merkel is expected to fight for a third term….

According to first projections, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) won 38.8 percent of the vote and will have enough to form a stable majority with the Greens, who scored 12.2 percent.

The two left-leaning parties had run a fragile minority government for the past two years under popular SPD leader Hannelore Kraft, whose decisive victory on Sunday could propel her to national prominence.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) saw their support plunge to just 25.8 percent, down from nearly 35 percent in 2010, and the worst result in the state since World War Two.

The CDU in this particular state was strongly identified with pro-austerity policies. Beyond that, the defeat couldn’t have come at a worse time for Merkel:

NRW, a diverse state with struggling cities in the rust-belt Ruhr region and home to one third of Germany’s blue-chip companies, has a history of influencing national politics.

Seven years ago, a humiliating loss for then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s SPD in the state prompted him to call early elections, which he subsequently lost to Merkel.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.