Elections in the city-state of Berlin on September 18 delivered another serious blow to the government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, even as her party’s vote increased.
Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) came in second place in the Berlin election, winning 23.4% of the vote – up from 21.3% in 2006.
Support for the ruling centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) dropped slightly, from 30.6% to 28.6%, but will remain in government in Germany’s capital. SPD leader Klaus Wowereit ― Germany’s first openly gay premier ― is likely to replace his “red-red coalition” partners, the socialist Die Linke, with the more moderate Greens.
The Greens came third, winning 17.6% ― a swing to them of 4.7%. Die Linke slipped slightly from 13.4% to 11.7%.
During five years of coalition government, Die Linke became implicated in the Berlin government’s anti-social policies and a 13% unemployment rate, damaging its social justice credentials.
The hotly contested question of whether ― and under what conditions ― Die Linke should enter coalition governments will be debated in late October, when the party holds its national “Program Congress” in Erfurt.
The surprise winner at this election was the Pirate Party, which won an unexpected 8.9% of the vote, entering parliament for the first time with 15 seats.
Despite having few policies beyond internet freedoms, personal data protection and the legalisation of cannabis, the Pirate Party stole thousands of votes from all major parties. It won the support of tens of thousands of first-time voters ― mostly in the under-30 age group.
But the biggest story may be the shockingly low vote for the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) ― the junior partners in Merkel’s federal coalition.
The FDP vote collapsed from 7.8% in 2006 to just 1.8%, well below the 5% parliamentary threshold.
The FDP has now crashed out of parliament for the fifth time in seven state elections held this year.
The result, a sixth electoral embarrassment for Merkel this year, has her government looking increasingly unstable.
Shortly before the poll, the flagging FDP desperately appealed to nationalist “Euro-sceptic” sentiment by criticising the eurozone bailout strategy ― a policy of the German government.
The party’s new leader Philipp Roesler ― Germany’s economy minister ― caused uproar in government ranks by calling for “an orderly bankruptcy of Greece”.
This flies in the face of plans championed by Merkel for a further bailout of Greece’s economy.
Roesler has insisted he will continue to speak out on the subject ― regardless of government policy ― and declared there should be “no taboos” in the eurozone debate.
It’s not only the FDP that’s having euro-sceptic fits. The CDU’s Bavarian sister-party ― the Christian Social Union ― is also arguing against use of German taxes to bail out struggling eurozone countries.
On September 29, the German Bundestag will vote on giving the European Financial Stability Fund more powers. The vote seems set to go ahead, but the Merkel’s government is looking increasingly untenable.