German conservatives on track to win elections in northern state

  • Conservative CDU leads 43.5% in early exit polls
  • Energy transition a major campaign problem during the war in Ukraine
  • Elections seen as whistleblower for NRW elections on May 15

BERLIN, May 8 (Reuters) – Germany’s conservative CDU won elections on Sunday in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, a boost for the party of former Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was ousted from the national government in federal elections last year.

An exit poll by infratest dimap brought the Christian Democrats (CDU) to 43.5% of the vote, an increase of 11.5 percentage points from the last state elections in Schleswig-Holstein in 2017.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s centre-left Social Democrats, the main party in Germany’s “traffic light” coalition with the environmentalist Greens and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), meanwhile fell to 15.9% after presenting a largely unknown candidate .

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The exit poll brought the Greens and FDP, which have formed a coalition with the CDU in Schleswig-Holstein since 2017, to 18.1% and 6.4% respectively, meaning the Conservatives there may be able to form a government with just one of the two parties .

CDU Secretary General Mario Czaja said the party will not make a recommendation from Berlin on how Prime Minister Daniel Guenther should proceed when choosing a partner.

The CDU’s stronger position in the state than at the national level — where polls say it stands at 26% after its worst ever result in September’s federal election — is partly due to Guenther’s popularity, analysts say.

Another term for 48-year-old Guenther, who is the most popular state prime minister in Germany according to polls, could bolster the role of moderates within the CDU, unlike their more right-wing leader Friedrich Merz, CDU sources told Reuters.

The South Schleswig Party (SSW), which represents the ethnic Danish minority in the state, won 5.8% of the vote, while both the far-right AfD and far-left Left parties failed to get the 5% of the vote needed. to secure seats in the state. the parliament of the state.

More importantly, next week’s elections are in Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), where the SPD and CDU are neck and neck.

A loss to the Conservatives in NRW, after the March loss in the small western state of Saarland, would be a major blow to the party.

It would also make it easier for Scholz’s SPD-Greens-FDP coalition to pass laws in the upper house of the national parliament, where regional elections help determine the distribution of votes. read more

Regional issues such as childcare costs or property taxes typically dominate such state elections.

But national issues will also receive particular attention this year, given the tectonic shift in German foreign, energy and security policy since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

First, Germany wants to accelerate renewable energy expansion to reduce its dependence on Russia as a supplier of oil and gas.

Situated between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, Schleswig-Holstein is one of Germany’s leading states in wind power generation, with more than 3,000 onshore and offshore wind turbines.

The Greens want to increase the number of turbines and reduce the minimum distance required between wind farms and residential buildings, while the CDU wants to increase the production capacity of existing wind farms without expanding the number further.

Schleswig-Holstein will also be home to one of two planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals in Germany, which has been brought forward due to the war in Ukraine. The Greens and the SSW had previously opposed the project.

But they are no longer expected to strongly object to joining the government amid energy supply concerns, according to Christian Meyer-Heidemann, the state commissioner for civic education, an impartial agency.

Battery manufacturer Northvolt plans to open a third gigafactory for battery cells in the city of Heide by 2025, citing the state’s high share of green power.

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Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke and Vera Eckert, editing by Mark Heinrich, Catherine Evans and Diane Craft

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