BERLIN: Germany’s conservatives look set to come first in a regional election in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein on Sunday in a boost to former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, which was ousted from national government in federal elections last year.
The Christian Democrats (CDU) have a big lead in polls in the state, whose nearly 3 million residents account for roughly 3.5% of Germany’s population.
One survey published by ZDF Politbarometer on Thursday put the CDU at 38% in Schleswig-Holstein, widening the gap with the Social Democrats (SPD) and the environmentalist Greens, which both stood at 18%.
The CDU’s stronger standing in the state than at the national level - where it is polling at 26% following its worst federal election ever in September - is partly down to the popularity of state premier Daniel Guenther, analysts say.
Another term for 48-year-old Guenther, who polls show is the most popular state premier in Germany, could strengthen the role of moderates within the CDU, in a counterpoint to their more right-wing leader Frederich Merz, CDU sources told Reuters.
More significant will be elections next week in Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), where the SPD and CDU are running neck and neck.
A loss by the conservatives in NRW, after losing in March in the tiny western state of Saarland, would be a significant blow to the party.
It would also make it easier for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition of the SPD, Greens and business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) to pass laws in the upper house of the national parliament, where regional elections help to determine the distribution of votes.
Regional issues such as the cost of childcare or property purchase taxes typically dominate such state elections.
But national issues are also in particular focus this year given the tectonic shift in German foreign, energy and security policy since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
For one, Germany aims to accelerate the expansion of renewable energy to reduce its dependence on Russia as a supplier of oil and gas.
Located between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, Schleswig-Holstein is one of Germany’s leading states in wind power generation, with over 3,000 onshore and offshore wind turbines.
The Greens aim to increase the number of turbines and cut the minimum distance required between wind farms and residential buildings, while the CDU wants to raise the production capacity of existing wind farms without further increasing their number.
Schleswig-Holstein is also set to become home to one of Germany’s two planned liquid natural gas (LNG) terminals, whose construction has been brought forward due to the Ukraine war.
The Greens and the South Schleswig Party (SSW), which represents the ethnic Danish minority, had previously opposed the project.
But they are not expected to strongly object anymore if they become part of the government given concerns over energy supply, according to Christian Meyer-Heidemann, the state’s Commissioner Of Civic Education, a non-partisan office.
The state has been ruled by a so-called “Jamaica” coalition of the conservatives, Greens and FDP - named for the parties’ colours - since 2017, which Guenther has said he hopes to continue if he wins the election.
The next state coalition could also comprise only two parties, the CDU and the Greens or the CDU and the FDP, if a majority can be achieved without a third partner.