A Green Future? Implications of the 2011 Land Elections in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-WürttembergApril 7, 2011 Print
Normally, the only people who describe the results of sub-national, or Land, elections in Germany as ‘sensational’ are the winners of such polls. However, in the case of the elections held on 27 March 2011 in the states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg, the use of this adjective, for once, seems justified. For the results, which saw the Greens increase their share of the vote strongly in both states to score 15.4 and 24.2 percent respectively, have turned conventional political wisdom in Germany on its head. In particular, due to the Greens dropping the SPD into third place in Baden-Württemberg, Germany looks set to have its first Green Minister-President ever in Winfried Kretschmann – and the first Minister-President who is not from the CDU/CSU or SPD since the late 1950s.
The immediate reason behind this shift is clear: In a country where the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster left deep scars, the ongoing problems at the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan were always going play into the hands of the Greens and their traditionally anti-nuclear power platform. Turnout was up in both states, with voters pinpointing energy policy as a key factor in their decision. In that context, Chancellor Merkel’s recent volte-face on her government’s original plans to extend the lifespan of Germany’s own nuclear power stations looked to be a fairly cynical electioneering ploy, which arguably ended up benefiting the Greens rather than the CDU.
But local factors were at play, too. In recent months, politics in Baden-Württemberg had been defined by growing public opposition to the CDU-FDP Land government’s plans to completely demolish and relocate the central train station in Stuttgart (the so-called Stuttgart 21 project), and the Greens had been successful in putting themselves at the political head of this opposition movement. What is more, with its large and prosperous university towns such as Freiburg, Heidelberg, and Tübingen, the Greens have always been strong in Baden-Württemberg, and rather more bourgeois than their more radical counterparts in Hessen or Berlin. That in turn made it easier for disaffected CDU and FDP voters to pick them as an alternative.
So what conclusions can we draw about the parties’ respective performances?
First, the Christian Democrats (CDU) performed very poorly in states which have traditionally been strongholds of Catholic conservatism. In Rhineland-Palatinate, the CDU had consistently headed the state’s government for 44 years between 1947 and 1991, before losing power to an SPD-led coalition. But in Baden-Württemberg, the CDU had been in power, albeit sometimes in coalition with either the FDP or SPD, without interruption since 1953 – a massive 58 years. Therefore, the fact that the CDU failed to usurp the former state’s rather tired SPD government with its now-veteran SPD Minister-President Kurt Beck is bad enough; but to lose office in Baden-Württemberg is a bitter blow indeed.