Merkel’s CDU party loses elections in two of three states during regional polls. The mixed feelings of the Chancellor

The Christian Democratic Union, the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, has suffered setbacks during regional elections held in Baden-Wuerrtemberg, Saxony Anhalt and Rhineland Palatinate this Sunday, while the right-populist party AfD (Alternative for Germany) gained a large amount of seats in the regional parliaments.

The German chancellor must have experienced different (Facebook-like) reactions to the news about the results of these elections. Notably, this happens at the same time as Merkel’s approval ratings have gone up, which signals interesting developments on the German political battleground, which may intensify in the run up to next year’s general elections.

The results on Sunday indicated a big blow for the Christian Democrats CDU in Baden-Wuerrtemberg and Rhineland Palatinate. This was especially surprising for Baden-Wuerrtemberg, which had been a reliable fortress of the CDU in the past. With 27% (and a decline of 12% compared to the previous election held in 2011) the CDU left their former reign to an empowered Greens party (which won with a majority of 30,3% of the votes – about 6,1% more than in 2011) and landed in the parliament as the second most popular party. In the third place came the right wing party Alternative fuer Deutschland AfD with an astounding 15,1%.

The picture is similar in Rhineland Palatinate: the CDU came second to the Social Democrats SPD by a margin of 4,4 % while the AfD collected more seats and became third with a sheer 12,6%.

Only Saxony Anhalt proved successful for the CDU – where they took the majority with 29,8% of the votes. However, here too AfD was on the rise, as it scored its biggest success in elections so far – second place with 24,2% of the votes.

While gaining significant representation in now eight of the sixteen regional parliaments,  the AfD’s success has proven complicated for the coalition formation process: in Baden-Wuerrtemberg, for example, the Greens will have to reconsider their usual junior coalition partner SPD, as they will not be able to form a majority with their poor results (12,7% for SPD). A possible combination would be a three-party-based coalition between the Greens, the Social Democrats and the Liberals FDP or a new coalition with the CDU.

German media reporters argue that the sudden success of the AfD is tightly linked to Merkel’s refugee policy. Slogans campaigning for the AfD party included examples such as “Secure the borders” and “Stop the asylum chaos”. The party has been known to express views which were against bailout plans on a European level, anti-migration and anti-Merkel.

The results of these regional elections reflect a divide within the German public opinion with regard to Merkel’s policies. The rise of the AfD does not necessarily symbolize a threat to her leadership though, as the historic victory of the Greens in Baden-Wuerrtemberg means that there is strong support for her refugee policy. Vice Chacellor Sigmar Gabriel took a strong stance on the AfD’s success this Saturday: “There is a clear position that we stand by: humanity and solidarity. We will not change our position now.”

Interestingly, despite the decline of the CDU’s popularity, Merkel’s have recently improved. It seems that Germany is facing a typical problem: a distancing between the profile of the leader (and her positions) and that of her own ruling party. Moreover, there seem to be deep divisions between the views of various factions of her CDU/CSU support base. These differences are likely to intensify and to have a strong impact on Angela Merkel’s chances of running for a new term next year. In that respect, given the recent developments (especially in Baden- Wuerrtemberg), a potential CDU-Greens governing coalition, once unthinkable, starts being a possibility.