Election campaign in North Rhine-Westphalia: land of dirty things


Status: 05/03/2022 10:56

The tone was rough, the intrigues abounding: before the regional elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, politics does not always show itself in its best light. It’s a tradition in the state.

An analysis by Jochen Trum, WDR

In North Rhine-Westphalia, people like to be cosmopolitan. The country prides itself on its location in Central Europe (“in the heart of Europe”), the metropolises of Cologne and Düsseldorf are becoming more international, the Ruhr region sees itself as a melting pot of cultures with industrious charm. Society, one might think, is as diverse as the teams of the many Bundesliga football clubs from Bielefeld to Dortmund to Mönchengladbach.

As for the Prime Minister’s election in just under two weeks, things are more down-to-earth. The selection could hardly be less glamorous: two middle-aged men, both lawyers, born in Rhede (Münsterland) and Essen (Ruhrgebiet).

In principle, the two still live where they grew up. Both are married, fathers – and Catholics. Both of them have just come around the corner to study. Now they strive to look modern, friendly and close to people. Moreover, they do not show themselves to be completely devoid of talent.

Riddles about the effect of the office bonus

Hendrik Wüst (CDU) is the current head of government in Düsseldorf, but only since last October. He owes his office to the failed chancellor ambitions of his predecessor Armin Laschet. One of the mysteries surrounding this state election is whether the great Christian Democrat can develop a real power bonus in such a short time.

Thomas Kutschaty (SPD), the leader of the opposition, was justice minister for seven years in Hannelore Kraft’s red-green cabinet. As usual in the SPD of North Rhine-Westphalia, he had to work his way up to the head of the parliamentary group and the party. For a long time, Kuschaty didn’t really want to decide whether he should be clean-shaven, with a full beard or a stubble. In the meantime, he found his profile. Whether the time is right for him or he has to fight against a weak federal tendency for his party, it is open.

“Mallorca-Gate” and supporting roles in national politics

In terms of content, very few voters have so far had a clear picture of the political offer. Because unlike five years ago, when fundamental political issues dominated the debate, they have so far played only a minor role. Instead, the country faces questions of such historic significance over whether it was advisable for the environment minister to visit Mallorca during the flood disaster in July last year. and celebrates her husband’s birthday there. And if she should have kept the evening secret with other cabinet members of parliament and the public.

The answer is now clear, Minister of History. The fact that the SPD tried during this affair (“Mallorca-Gate”) to stalk the minister’s underage daughter on Instagram, apparently in order to obtain incriminating images from the party, does not reflect the style well either. Rhine policy. After all, a public apology followed immediately, we can believe the remorse, we can also get out of it.

Bric-a-brac under cover of serious politics

Unsavory arguments have a long tradition in North Rhine-Westphalia politics. Since the 2010 election campaign, when a blog with finely dosed piercings from the CDU party headquarters gave Prime Minister Jürgen Rüttger (2005-2010) a hard time, election campaigns have suffered from a certain excess of banality.

Aggressive campaigns, personal quarrels, odds and ends under the guise of political seriousness have marked the country’s political culture. Since then, the CDU and the SPD in particular have not really dared to meet.

Everyone expects the other to dig deep into the dirt box on time at the start of the campaign – and behave accordingly. The fact that the digital revolution has also given activists in and around Düsseldorf such a beneficial invention as Twitter worries others.

The short message service has been widely distributed for weeks. The sound is rough, the rags fly. It is also state policy, but only marginally. Observers may shrug their shoulders that Germany’s relationship with Russia is now suddenly a battleground for state politicians. Maybe he’s just trying to capture whatever distracts from state policy.

Choice of test via traffic light policy

Politically, the election in North Rhine-Westphalia is seen as a test election for traffic light politics in Berlin. If, after a possible success in Kiel, the state in the west also remains in the hands of the CDU, party leader Friedrich Merz, himself from North Rhine-Westphalia, should see his course confirmed. And Wüst, observers suspect, would then also be a heavyweight in the Union – only 20 years younger.

The CDU and the FDP would prefer to continue to govern in a familiar way. Black and Yellow likes to refer to the results of the electoral period which is ending: debureaucratization, school policy, internal security, economic policy, Liberals and Christian Democrats everywhere see themselves almost blinded by their own success – even if, according to the polls, a continuation is currently unlikely.

After all, the coalition of Wüst and Integration Minister Joachim Stamp (FDP) actually has a lot of advantages. She succeeded in putting an end to the endless speeches at the base of the red-green coalition on the so-called backward federal state, which remains below its potential with educational wasteland and economic impotence.

FDP Ministry of Education as a risk

Five years ago, the FDP had a real run under Christian Lindner, who has since become Berlin’s first traffic light treasurer. But in 2022, history will not repeat itself. The FDP runs the Düsseldorf school department, which turns out to be a very bad choice after two years of the pandemic.

The party is now under threat of being punished for the incessant back and forth with masks and tests. If it’s true that the school pastor couldn’t have pleased everyone, that’s a cold consolation.

green kingmaker

The Greens, meanwhile, could become something of a kingmaker, in a two-way or three-way alliance. It is easy to predict that the party will grow in size compared to 2017. Because five years ago she would not have been far behind and she would have been expelled from Parliament. In the meantime, the Greens – traditionally quite to the left in North Rhine-Westphalia – are so sure of themselves that they have even presented an almost unknown head of the list with Mona Neubaur, who does not even have a seat in the parliament of Land. You have to be able to afford it.

AfD exceptionally modest

The AfD, on the other hand, lacks a real subject of mobilization. Euro crisis, refugee crisis, Islamist activities also in NRW: in the past, these were real blows for the populists. Especially in the strongholds of the SPD, the alternative was making money and driving out the votes of the social democrats.

Remaining in state parliament in May may be successful, but caucus front duo Markus Wagner and head of state Martin Vincentz are clearly wary of premature triumphalism. The new right practices a new modesty.

With nearly two weeks to go before the most important election of the year, everything looks like a tete-a-tete in North Rhine-Westphalia. Whatever the electorate decides on May 15, the subsequent formation of a government could be a showdown. The fact that it will go as quickly as it did five years ago, when the CDU and FDP only needed 14 days, is probably just as likely as Borussia Dortmund’s league title is coming soon.

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