Green party wins several big city mayor posts in Germany’s most populous state
Germany’s Green Party has won several mayoral run-offs in large cities in North Rhine-Westphalia, the country’s most populous state, crowning a surge in municipal elections two weeks ago and highlighting the party's strength ahead of next year's national elections.
While local elections are often dominated by local issues and personalities, commentators noted the broad surge of the Greens across the state in the first round two weeks ago and highlighted several mayoral races where joint candidates supported by the Greens and the conservative CDU, which heads the state government, won. The local elections are seen as proof that a “love match” is in the making on a federal level, Thomas Sigmund wrote in business daily Handelsblatt after the first round.
With Germany heading into a 12-month-long run up to the federal elections, which will determine Chancellor Angela Merkel’s successor, the local election received additional attention. While all three candidates for the leadership of Merkel’s conservative CDU hail from the state, they each have a set of different priorities. Merkel’s CDU has gained in federal opinion polls thanks to the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, but the Green party has kept its second place as climate change remains one of the top concerns among German voters.
In Bonn, the former German capital and seat of the UN’s climate body, the UNFCCC, the Greens’ Katja Dörner beat conservative incumbent Ashok-Alexander Sridharan (CDU). The most prestigious price in North Rhine-Westphalia’s local elections – the mayoralty of Cologne, Germany’s fourth largest city -- went to independent incumbent Henriette Reker, whom both the conservatives and Greens supported.
A joint candidate of the two parties won in Wuppertal (population: 350,000): Uwe Schneidewind, who until recently headed the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy think tank, beat the Social Democratic incumbent. Schneidewind ran on a carefully calibrated transformation agenda in the city with a proud industrial tradition that has been battered by decades of structural change, wrote Peter Unfried, columnist for left-leaning daily taz.
The conservative CDU of state premier Armin Laschet, who is vying for the party’s leadership and with that to succeed Merkel as chancellor, came top overall in the local elections two weeks ago, also winning back the mayoralty in the state capital Düsseldorf. Laschet is seen as the moderate front-runner to take the party chairman position. His main rival, Friedrich Merz, the former head of the Bundestag’s conservative parliamentary group, is positioning himself as a more conservative, business-oriented option. The third candidate, former federal environment minister Norbert Röttgen, has seen a recent rise in popularity because of his call to end the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project with Russia after the poisoning of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny. Current party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer decided last year to step aside.
A recent poll showed that nearly half of current voters for Merkel’s CDU are not sure if they will vote again for the party once she steps down as chancellor. The poll also showed that Markus Söder, Bavarian prime minister and head of the CDU sister party CSU, is leading in voters’ preferences to succeed Merkel as chancellor.