German press review: The 'nuclear' elections

By Joanna Impey

German front pages have been painted green after state elections seen as a "spectacular" boost for the Greens, and a "debacle" for Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats. Many papers put the result down to nuclear power.

The mass-circulation newspaper Bild has dubbed this weekend's state elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland Palatinate the "nuclear elections" after a poll revealed 45 percent of voters saw nuclear power as key issue in the light of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

The conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) played on this idea, saying "the aftershocks of this earthquake will cause confusion in the Berlin coalition." The losses for Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) in the state parliaments of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland Palatinate make it harder for her to pass legislation in the Bundesrat or upper house of parliament.
A blow to the German chancellor

merkel The FAZ also commented on the "ongoing weakness" of the Free Democrats (FDP), Merkel's junior coalition partner in Berlin, which, in Rhineland-Palatinate, failed to clear the five percent hurdle required to enter state parliament. The paper suggested the result turns up the pressure on FDP leader and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

But analysts predicted Merkel would survive, despite the blow to her coalition's morale.

"The CDU has no one [capable of challenging Merkel]," Der Spiegel news magazine wrote on its website. "It is chained to Merkel, at least until the next scheduled federal election [in 2013]."
Fallout from nuclear crisis

The Süddeutsche Zeitung called the result "spectacular" and noted that it was "the consequence of a distant earthquake, a fallout from the Japanese nuclear catastrophe." However, the editorial went on to say that the result could not be called "sensational" because it was normal in a democracy "that winners don't always remain winners, and losers aren't always losers."

For the daily Berliner Zeitung, the elections were a "debacle" for Merkel's party and coalition partners.

"And what a stunning success for the Greens," the editorial continued. "What happened… in Baden-Württemberg is not simply any old democratic change. It's a revolution in the Swabian style, carried out peacefully and in an ordered manner at the polling booth… and despite that it is an overthrow that will not only affect the south-west of Germany, but the whole country."
A real change?

The local Badische Zeitung, based in Freiburg in Baden-Württemberg, is more circumspect, questioning whether the Greens and Social Democrats can create lasting change.

The Greens now have to convert their hard-won victory

"This result above all creates expectations. Expectations of another way of governing, of more public participation, and of a fundamental political change, up till now only vaguely defined."

The paper stresses that the Greens and the Social Democrats will have to earn their election victory: "That won't happen without frictional losses and disappointments." The editorial questions whether the result is "the start of a new era, or just an intermezzo."
Impact on Berlin

The Düsseldorf-based Westdeutsche Zeitung highlights a number of greater consequences of the two latest state elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate.

"It will take time before political routine returns to these two states. Above all it will shake political Berlin to its core, right up to personal consequences, notably for the Free Democrats."

But the Westdeutsche Zeitung sees Merkel's position as secure, at least until the next elections. The editorial says Merkel will hope that the state election results were nothing more than a "snapshot."