The blog below is written by Dicomm Advisors our partner agency in Berlin and one of the leading public affairs advisors in Germany.
There have been three regional elections in Germany this year and the results don’t bode well for Martin Schulz, the former President of the European Parliament, and now the leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) ahead of September’s federal election. The latest two setbacks came just seven days apart, as Schulz’s party lost consecutive votes in the states of Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), despite leading the incumbent government. To make matters worse, the weeks leading up to the elections saw the Social Democrats quickly dropping in opinion polls in both states, with Schulz being almost invisible in both campaigns.
In contrast, Chancellor Merkel must be feeling better than ever about her prospects for September’s election. Her party, the Christian Democrats (CDU) won in NRW,once the heartland of rival SPD. They did so based on a law and order campaign, capitalising on the missteps the regional government made after the now infamous 2015 New Years’ Eve attacks in Cologne. The Chancellor herself did not have to intervene much, instead spending her time on state visits to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Sochi, where she met Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The “Schulz effect”, if there ever was a lasting one, seems to be gone for good. Maybe Schulz will now enter attack mode and become more visible, but that is a big if. Social justice, his early campaign focus, is nothing but a buzzword without concrete policy proposals. His biggest strength – his European experience – is hard to play out when many of his accomplishments were joint projects with Merkel.
Instead, the Chancellor – who in 2015 and 2016 lost six out of seven state elections – is once again an asset for her party. The negative impact of her refugee policy on voters is all but gone and the CDU can campaign on her personal virtues. Indeed, much time was spent by the CDU focusing on security as the key issue, with great emphasis on domestic security under Merkel.
Another positive for the Chancellor is that the Liberal Democrats (FDP) are on a roll and look poised to re-enter the German Bundestag. They received 12.6 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election, their best in history. Once again the FDP could be the natural coalition partner for the CDU in Berlin, as long as the wounds inflicted during the last CDU/FDP government have healed, of course.
Although the election is by no means a foregone conclusion, it seems as if Schulz and the SPD will need the help of a major European crisis to finally overthrow the seemingly eternal chancellor. A banking crisis in Italy or renewed trouble with Turkish President Erdogan could be a problem for Angela Merkel. But short of that, she looks set to be in the driver’s seat for the elections and could become Germany’s longest-serving chancellor if she governs until the end of the next term – 2021.