Angela Merkel's party humiliated by shock election defeat

German voters reject austerity programme in favour of pro-growth opposition in state poll

Berlin

Angela Merkel's ruling conservatives suffered a humiliating defeat in key elections in Germany's most populous state yesterday when voters rejected her party's austerity policies and handed a resounding victory to her pro-growth Social Democratic Party opponents.

Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats were shell-shocked by the devastating result they returned in the poll in North Rhine Westphalia, which has a total population of 18 million. Exit polls showed that they secured a mere 25.5 per cent of the vote – their worst performance ever in the state.

Germany's conservative Environment Minister, Norbert Röttgen, the party's candidate in the election, had mounted a vigorous campaign centred on Ms Merkel's austerity policies, which aimed to cut the state's €230 billion debt.

"Today is a very bitter day," Mr Röttgen conceded last night. "We have been clearly defeated."

By contrast, the pro-growth Social Democrats and their candidate Hannelore Kraft, 50, romped home with 38 per cent of the vote. They were expected to form a so-called Red-Green coalition with the environmentalist Greens who won around 12 per cent of the vote. The two parties secured enough seats to obtain an absolute majority in the state parliament.

The conservatives campaigned in the run-up to the poll with an inflatable rubber "debt mountain" to illustrate the region's financial problems. By contrast, Mrs Kraft dismissed rigid saving programmes in favour of growth and insisted that her aim was "putting people first".

Elections in North Rhine Westphalia are considered a key indicator of national voting intentions. Andrea Nahles, the general secretary of Germany's Social Democrats, insisted that the result paved the way for the ousting of Angela Merkel in Germany's general election next year.

There were even suggestions last night that Mrs Kraft, whose political style has been compared to that of Ms Merkel, could run for the post of Social Democrat Chancellor candidate in next year's election.

Ms Merkel's liberal Free Democrat coalition partners were able to avoid a feared electoral disaster and managed to gain 8 per cent of the vote – enough for the party to avoid being left without enough votes to win seats in the state parliament.

Yesterday's result was the second major poll setback for Ms Merkel's conservatives within the space of a week. In elections in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, her Christian Democrats secured their lowest share of the vote in over 50 years.

The conservatives' slide began last year when they suffered one of their worst-ever blows in the prosperous southern state of Baden-Württemberg, where they were ousted from power for the first time since the early 1950s by a coalition of Greens and the Social Democrats.

The conservatives are currently in power in six of Germany's 17 federal states. Yet despite the growing unpopularity of her own party, on a personal level Ms Merkel continues to rate as one of Germany's most respected Chancellors ever.

Hollande flies to Berlin for showdown

Officials in both Paris and Berlin are trying to dampen down expectations before the first encounter tomorrow between a newly installed French President and an increasingly beleaguered German Chancellor.

Almost the first act of President François Hollande, after he takes the oath of office in Paris tomorrow morning, will be to fly to Berlin to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel. Europe-watchers will be scrutinising the proceedings closely to see if new Franco-German axis to replace "Merkozy" be a French-dominated "HoMer" or a German dominated "Merklande".

The two leaders will hold three hours of talks followed by a press conference and then a working dinner. Mr Hollande will be trying to persuade Ms Merkel that it is in her own interest, and Germany's interest, to relax her all-austerity approach to the crisis in the Eurozone. Ms Merkel, in contrast, is likely to insist that there is no question of reopening the EU fiscal discipline treaty agreed by 25 out of 27 countries in March and that there is no question of turning on the taps of "deficit" spending.

For the sake of the markets, the two leaders are likely to use their press conference to stake out common ground rather than to emphasise their differences. The Hollande camp points out that he will be travelling almost alone, without his yet-to-be-named prime minister or finance minister. There can, therefore, be no in-depth negotiation.

John Lichfield

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
News
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing