Angela Merkel prepares for an austerity backlash as key state goes to the polls

Likely defeat in weekend's regional election set to be humbling bodyblow to Chancellor's cuts agenda


More than 20ft high, rubber, inflatable and wobbling, the latest weapon in Chancellor Angela Merkel's relentless austerity drive looks uncannily like a children's bouncy castle. Yet it is currently touring Germany's most populous state ahead of this weekend's key elections which could determine her long-term political future.

Her Christian Democratic party's campaign gimmick for Sunday's poll in North Rhine-Westphalia is a portable blow-up "debt mountain". Outsized €200 and €500 notes protrude from its exterior, which is decorated with hundreds of €1 coins. "The mountain is growing – put a brake on debt now!" proclaims a slogan on top.

With a population of 18 million, North Rhine-Westphalia has more people than Greece. Any poll there is seen as a key test of national voting intentions. And faced with a general election next year, Ms Merkel's conservatives are taking it seriously. They claim that the results of last weekend's elections in France and Greec e have turned the weekend poll into a key test for Ms Merkel and her stability-oriented policies at home and in Europe. They are hoping that North Rhine-Westphalia, which has debts totalling €230bn (£184bn), will become the latest recruit to the cause of Merkel austerity.

"Angela Merkel cannot appear credible and strong if policies that lead to mounting debt are being pursued offensively in Germany's most populous state," insisted the conservative's front runner, Norbert Röttgen, this week.

At a party rally in the cathedral square of the former Ruhr mining town of Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday, the message delivered by Germany's first woman Chancellor to a crowd of 2,000 mostly elderly residents echoed Margaret Thatcher: "It simply comes down to not spending more than you earn!" said Ms Merkel,

Mr Röttgen has appeared at election rallies and proclaimed that any debt-conscious government led by him in the state would ensure that taxpayers' money "will not be poured into bottomless European barrels" or "wasted on French election promises". To help reduce North Rhine-Westphalia's debt he has called for higher studying and nursery costs.

In Gelsenkirchen, a town renowned for having one of the highest unemployment rates in western Germany, their calls for thrift appeared to fall on deaf ears. "We are the richest country in Europe and exports are booming," Norbert Schmal, a retired miner said. "Do we have to cut spending forever?"

Latest opinion polls suggest that North Rhine-Westphalia is in no mood for austerity. Ms Merkel's conservatives trail their main Social Democrat opponents by some seven percentage points.

With the Green party expected to gain around 12 per cent of the vote, a Red-Green alliance of Social Democrats and Greens appears on course. Ms Merkel's conservatives are forecast to return one of their worst results, with 30 per cent.

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Life and Style
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Pricing Analyst - 6 months / 1 year analytical experience

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day supply

£110 - £130 per day + Competitve rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Yea...

Year 4 Teachers needed for day to day supply across the region

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Nursery Teachers needed for supply roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Nu...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits