EU vote debacle leaves Merkel coalition with new headache

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's fragile coalition took a fresh knock on Sunday with historic low scores at European elections, exit polls showed, raising questions on whether it could survive the latest body blow.

EU vote debacle leaves Merkel coalition with new headache
CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer with CSU lead candidate Manfred Weber (in middle) and Angela Merkel on the campaign trail. Photo: DPA

While the list of Merkel's centre-right bloc led by ally Manfred Weber was on course to top the vote with around 28 percent, according to two separate exit polls by national broadcasters ARD and ZDF, the score was eight percentage points off its previous low.

The evening turned out even more disastrous for Merkel's junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which was not only toppled from second place at European polls by the Greens, but also suffered a humiliating loss at state elections in its stronghold Bremen.

READ ALSO: Greens surge amid heavy losses for Germany's ruling parties in EU election

READ ALSO: Germany's Social Democrats set for historic losses in Bremen state election

The Greens more than doubled its share of the vote, winning over from Merkel's CDU-CSU bloc more than a million voters who brought to the ballot boxes their demands for more action to halt global warming.

Meanwhile, the far-right AfD, which had hoped to ride on a wave of nationalism sweeping across Europe, only slightly improved its 2014 score of 7.1 percent to just past 10 percent.

Merkel and the chief of her Bavarian CSU allies Markus Söder as well as SPD boss Andrea Nahles are due to hold talks on Monday to take stock of EU poll results.

But questions were already swirling about the future of their partnership.

“There will be a new debate on staying in the coalition,” predicted Die Welt daily.

Different dynamic

CDU general secretary Paul Ziemiak said the coalition “must go on so to maintain stability in Germany,” stressing that for his party, “it's about the country and not party political questions”.

For Nahles, the results show that “there is still a lot to do”, stressing the need to push through with plans to bring about a climate bill by year's end.

But Spiegel noted that the catastrophic results on Sunday may set off  “a completely different dynamic: the anti-GroKo powers in the SPD win the upper hand and that leaves the future of the party and parliamentary group chief Andrea Nahles as open as that of the coalition.”

The partnership between Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Bavarian allies the Christian Social Union (CSU) along with the SPD has been an uneasy one from the start.

The SPD, stung by a beating at general elections in 2017, had initially sought to go into opposition.

But it was reluctantly coaxed into renewing a partnership with Merkel's bloc, and many within the party remain wary of continuing to govern in Merkel's shadow while taking the fall for any unpopular policies.

With the party also losing the top spot in stronghold Bremen, rumblings of discontent against the leadership may yet grow louder.

Bremen may be Germany's smallest state, but the SPD holds it close to its heart as it is a region it has governed since the end of World War II.

With three major state elections coming up in eastern Germany in the autumn with the far-right on course for a strong showing, party chief Nahles' position may become increasingly untenable.

Already ahead of Sunday's vote, Bild am Sonntag quoted unnamed sources saying that veteran politician Martin Schulz was ready to stand against Nahles when the parliamentary chief post comes up for renewal in September.

Viral video

Both Merkel's centre-right and the SPD were also facing a new formidable challenge from the Greens.

Unlike in 2017, when parties in the coalition were punished over Merkel's decision in 2015 to let in more than a million asylum seekers, surveys show that the climate crisis has become the main worry for Germans this year.

Among 18-25 year olds, 51 percent of Germans surveyed by YouGov said climate was their biggest concern.

School strikes by students joining young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg's protests on Fridays have given momentum to the cause.

But more damaging for Merkel's party was an online attack by a young German YouTuber Rezo days before the vote, raging that the CDU was not doing enough for the environment.

Put online on May 18th, the clip had been viewed more than 11 million times by Sunday.

The CDU struggled for days to find a response and after initially reacting angrily against the YouTuber, finally on Thursday sought dialogue with him.

Raising the ante, Rezo along with 70 other influential YouTubers instead published an open letter urging people to shun the CDU, the SPD and the AfD at the polls.

The episode has exposed the CDU's struggle in capturing young voters.

According to ZDF's exit poll, 33 percent of under 30s chose the Greens, while only 13 percent picked the CDU in Sunday's EU vote.

By Hui Min Neo

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Norway flirts with the idea of a ‘mini Brexit’ in election campaign

On paper, Norway's election on Monday looks like it could cool Oslo's relationship with the European Union but analysts say that appearances may be deceiving.

Norway flirts with the idea of a 'mini Brexit' in election campaign
The Centre Party's leader Slagsvold Vedum has called for Norway's relationship with the European Union to be renegotiated. Photo: Gorm Kallestad / NTB / AFP

After eight years of a pro-European centre-right government, polls suggest the Scandinavian country is headed for a change of administration.

A left-green coalition in some shape or form is expected to emerge victorious, with the main opposition Labour Party relying on the backing of several eurosceptic parties to obtain a majority in parliament.

In its remote corner of Europe, Norway is not a member of the EU but it is closely linked to the bloc through the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement.

The deal gives Norway access to the common market in exchange for the adoption of most European directives.

Both the Centre Party and the Socialist Left — the Labour Party’s closest allies, which together have around 20 percent of voter support — have called for the marriage of convenience to be dissolved.

“The problem with the agreement we have today is that we gradually transfer more and more power from the Storting (Norway’s parliament), from Norwegian lawmakers to the bureaucrats in Brussels who are not accountable,” Centre Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum said in a recent televised debate.


Defending the interests of its rural base, the Centre Party wants to replace the EEA with trade and cooperation agreements.

However, Labour leader Jonas Gahr Store, who is expected to become the next prime minister, does not want to jeopardise the country’s ties to the EU, by far Norway’s biggest trading partner.

“If I go to my wife and say ‘Look, we’ve been married for years and things are pretty good, but now I want to look around to see if there are any other options out there’… Nobody (in Brussels) is going to pick up the phone” and be willing to renegotiate the terms, Gahr Store said in the same debate.

Running with the same metaphor, Slagsvold Vedum snapped back: “If your wife were riding roughshod over you every day, maybe you would react.”

EU a ‘tough negotiating partner’

Initially, Brexit gave Norwegian eurosceptics a whiff of hope. But the difficulties in untangling British-EU ties put a damper on things.

“In Norway, we saw that the EU is a very tough negotiating partner and even a big country like Britain did not manage to win very much in its negotiations,” said Ulf Sverdrup, director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

While Norwegians have rejected EU membership twice, in referendums in 1972 and 1994, a majority are in favour of the current EEA agreement.

During the election campaign, the EU issue has gradually been pushed to the back burner as the Centre Party — which briefly led in the polls — has seen its support deflate.

The nature of Norway’s relationship to the bloc will depend on the distribution of seats in parliament, but experts generally agree that little is likely to change.

“The Labour Party will surely be firm about the need to maintain the EEA agreement,” said Johannes Bergh, political scientist at the Institute for Social Research, “even if that means making concessions to the other parties in other areas”.

Closer cooperation over climate?

It’s possible that common issues, like the fight against climate change, could in fact bring Norway and the EU even closer.

“Cooperation with the EU will very likely become stronger because of the climate issue” which “could become a source of friction” within the next coalition, Sverdrup suggested.

“Even though the past 25 years have been a period of increasingly close cooperation, and though we can therefore expect that it will probably continue, there are still question marks” surrounding Norway’s future ties to the EU, he said.

These likely include the inclusion and strength of eurosceptics within the future government as well as the ability of coalition partners to agree on all EU-related issues.

Meanwhile, Brussels is looking on cautiously. The EEA agreement is “fundamental” for relations between the EU and its
partners Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, according to EU spokesman Peter Stano.

But when it comes to the rest, “we do not speculate on possible election outcomes nor do we comment on different party positions.”