The European Left seems on the rise. With left-of-center parties doing very well in elections in France, Greece, and Germany, it is tempting to read these elections as part of a broader repudiation of the conservative EU project of fiscal stability and indifference to unemployment. And surely, no election in Europe these days is removed from the question of where the EU is going.
Yet, the German elections, in the provinces/states of Schleswig-Holstein and North-Rhine Westphalia, were primarily provincial elections about provincial problems. At the same time, the recent election in North Rhine-Westphalia reveals interesting dimensions of how people negotiate the financial crisis at the provincial level.
The elections in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) had become necessary because the liberal party inadvertently brought down the minority government of the Social Democrats and the Green Party. The occasion was a fight over the budget in which the liberals wanted to appeal to their anti-tax constituency and at the same time support their minority government. Germany is not used to minority governments. Hence, those who deal with minority governments do not necessarily understand the arcane legal and political rules involved in keeping minority governments alive.
The elections worked well for the two parties that had formed the minority government: the Social Democrats received 39.1% of the vote (up by 4.6%) and the Greens 11.3% (down by 0.8%). The Christian Democratic Union, the party of Chancellor Merkel, received a disappointing 26.3% (down 8.3%). The Liberals, whose grandstanding had caused the election, came out with a surprisingly high 8.6%. The Pirate Party, barely visible in the last election, scored a strong 7.8%. What do these results mean? Who and what has won?
First, women won. Hannelore Kraft and Sylvia Löhrmann, the leading candidates for the Social Democrats and the Greens, respectively, converted . . .