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Germany

Opinion: Time to risk something new

The election outcome in North Rhine-Westphalia has been announced. Local policy did not decide the vote, but international sentiment. It's time to step into politically uncharted territory, says DW's Volker Wagener.

It might not be an earth-shattering result, but it is evidence of a trend. The Christian Democrat Union (CDU) is on a winning streak, the Social Democrat Party (SPD) is losing ground and the Free Democrats (FDP) are celebrating a revival.

The only predictable thing in the North Rhine-Westphalia election was the small success of the Alternative for Germany (AfD). It is also no surprise that the Greens have shrunk to the political equivalent of a bonsai tree, in what was once one of their core constituencies. Overall, voters today have shown there has been a consolidation of the stable political center.

The facts are clear: The CDU has won the large state of North Rhine-Westphalia for only the second time in the last 50 years. And this is despite being led by Armin Laschet, who rather fails to inspire and whose only political bonus, in a limp campaign, was being a nice guy.

But insipid Laschet did it, and the question that is going to be posed, at the latest by Monday morning, is how? There is a twofold answer to this, although the answers are connected. It's not for nothing that the North Rhine-Westphalian elections have been seen as a test for the upcoming federal election. It doesn't matter that they are still four months away. Because Chancellor Angela Merkel is very much behind the CDU's victory in the Rhine and Ruhr areas. And it's naive to think otherwise.

Wagener Volker Kommentarbild App

DW's Volker Wagener

Alarming global influences

Over the last few weeks there has been a shift in the political mood across the state. The traditional topics were, of course, important: class cancellations in NRW schools, high levels of criminality and low criminal clearance rates, the traffic jams on Germany's largest parking-lots - otherwise known as freeways or autobahns.

But this election was, in fact, decided on the big international issues. Left with the impression of a terminally ill European Union, whose health profile has been thrown further into convulsions by the virus called Brexit, by right-wing populists in Poland, Hungary, Austria, France - and by Donald Trump, the unpredictable political clown who sometimes provides the world with entertainment, but is mostly frightening. Never before has a state election been so infected by alarming global phenomena.

The result in NRW is a response to the right-wing populist trends. After years of lying in a political slumber, voters have again been mobilized. But it has not only profited those on the political fringe. The current political trend is moving again toward the center.

Tonight, the SPD are the serious victims. Not because they are not positioned enough in the center. No, it's because, in comparison to Merkel's CDU, they come second in terms of who can be trusted. This is even more striking given that the CDU has won in the SPD's heartland, providing some deep insights into September's federal election.

Martin Schulz, who after his candidacy so quickly cashed in on the Social Democrat's lethargy and who triggered a real "Martin-cult," would appear, even before the main federal election campaign has begun, to be dead in the water. And this is where there is once again evidence of the old Merkel-strength: do almost nothing, stay cool and let others make mistakes. There have been three state elections this year. And the CDU has won all of them - two of them in opposition. The SPD is back where it has been for years: at a low point.

No need to worry about AfD

And there are also other follow-on effects. For months we have almost only focused on the question of how high a percentage of the vote the right-wing populist AfD party would get, and how much political instability they could correspondingly cause.

Now, without any of the anticipated fanfare, they have just barely made it over the 5-percent hurdle to be able to enter parliament. They have turned out to be a political force, but not one that anybody needs to worry about.

That the Greens have lost some of their attraction can only partly be explained by their lack of policies in the campaign. It's a party that has been behind the conservative chancellor and her refugee policy since the summer of 2015, but now seems to be paying the price for supporting the opposition in something they would have liked to do themselves: Let refugees in, be humane.

But the fact is that Merkel is now getting votes that would have gone to other parties, despite having lost some support from critics within her own party.

'Project Jamaica'

But wait: Maybe the Greens will, after all, be able to benefit from their defeat. At this point, the CDU and the reinvigorated FDP do not seem to have an absolute majority, should they want to form a coalition. A so-called Jamaica coalition (based on the party colors black (CDU), yellow (FDP) and green -  the colors of the Jamaican flag) could become a big political project.

The far west of the country has a history of political experiments. Why not now? The time is long overdue to risk trying something new. For God's sake, let it not be another "grand coalition." The Greens may have already argued against the "Jamaica” coalition, but the federal election is on the doorstep, and such a tripartite alliance could be unavoidable in times when parliament consists of six parties instead of four.

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