The Corner

Schleswig-Holstein!

It was Lord Palmerston, one of Britain’s more entertaining (and successful) 19th-century statesmen who (reportedly) said this:

“Only three people…have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it.”

For some reason that quote was brought to mind by this explanation from Deutsche Welle as to what happened today in the local elections in the German Land of Schleswig-Holstein.

Here’s an extract:

What the new ruling coalition will look like is still undecided. Following the initial vote count, the CDU [Merkel’s lot] and SPD [the Social Democrats] are set to take out 22 seats each. The Greens, with over 13 percent of votes, get 10 seats, while the Pirates and the FDP [Merkel’s coalition partners] are both entitled to six.

This creates a new political arrangement in Schleswig-Holstein, which has been ruled by a coalition of the CDU and FDP since the last election in 2009.

Several coalitions are now possible, one of which has been named “Danish traffic lights” for the red-green-blue of its constituent party colors: the SPD, the Greens and the South Schleswig Voter Federation, which represents the Danish and Frisian minorities in the state.

The vote was the worse for the CDU in Schleswig-Holstein since 1950, but it wasn’t all bad news for Merkel. Her coalition partners in the FDP (which has been in free fall) did terribly (the FDP vote almost halved to a little over 8 percent), but it could have been worse. There had been speculation that the party would fail to pass the 5 percent threshold necessary to get into parliament. That bullet, at least, was dodged.

These percentages matter, because if the FDP is unable to reach that five percent in the national elections due in 2013, Merkel’s best chance of hanging onto her job (assuming she heads the poll) will be to form another grand coalition with the (Hollande-friendlier, incidentally) Social Democrats, but what if they don’t want to dance?

Complicating matters (and mathematics) further is the latest success of the Pirates, a somewhat difficult to define group, whose main interest (to date) has been in Internet freedoms and greater government transparency, but who appear to be evolving into a more generally soft left liberal direction. They could well now be headed for the national parliament next year.

Only one thing is certain. Voters in France, Greece, and Schleswig-Holstein have just made life even more difficult for Chancellor Merkel. 

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