In spite of the last surveys, which had suggested a neck-and-neck race between the SPD and their conservative rivals, Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) celebrated a surprisingly clear win in the North Rhine-Westphalia elections last Sunday.

CDU candidate Armin Laschet, a 56-year-old former journalist who — in the eyes of many conservatives — is regarded as a liberal within the party, is most likely to become the new MP. Who he is going to form a coalition with, however, remains unclear.

Still traumatised by the disappointing aftermaths of former coalitions, the Liberals are hesitating whether they should once more collaborate with the CDU. Even more so because their popular front-runner Christian Lindner already pronounced to leave the state parliament to dedicate himself to the upcoming Bundestag elections. Forming a government will thus become a complicated and potentially tedious task for Armin Laschet and his winning CDU.

Above that, North Rhine-Westphalia has always had a deep impact on national elections. The strong comeback of the Liberals, the weakness of the Greens and the notable success of right-wing populist AfD reflect the overall dynamics of a colorful and complex political landscape. Moreover, serious momentum for Mrs. Merkel is expected. Four major trends may influence the political agenda during the upcoming weeks:

  1. Conflicts between SPD and CDU/CSU will rise on the national level, making governing increasingly complicated. Sunday evening one of the SPD ministers accused Chancellor Merkel of campaigning by using “fake news”. An unprecedented move in German politics.
  2. Martin Schulz will see himself forced to reshuffle his campaign and define new policy issues. Schulz has centered his campaign on the topic of social justice, distancing himself from some of the labor market reforms known as “Agenda 2010”. After the third election lost in a row, Schulz is under immense pressure. The SPD needs a campaign overhaul.
  3. The national election campaign will be one of the toughest for a while. The right-wing populist AfD is very close to becoming an established party. Now present in 13 of 16 state parliaments, the AfD is very good in agenda-surfing and provoking media and public.
  4. External factors will have a deeper impact on the election outcome than in the past. During the last weeks, discussions on Turkey and Turkish migrants already proved that the refugee crises has deepened skepticisms about migration.

About the author:
Anders Mertzlufft, Director