Olaf Scholz saves face in Lower Saxony

The German Social Democrats can be satisfied. One year after winning the general elections, the SPD won a major victory on Sunday October 9 in Lower Saxony. With 33.4% of the votes, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s party prevailed in this vast Land in the northwest of the country, bastion of the automobile giant Volkswagen, ahead of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) by five points. which, with 28.6%, registered its worst result there since 1955.

If much of this success is due to the personality of the outgoing Minister-President, Stephan Weil, who has headed the regional executive since 2013 with a seriousness that even his opponents recognize in him, it is good news for Olaf Scholz: five months later the defeats of the SPD in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia, a third consecutive defeat for the Social Democrats, would have been a disaster for the chancellor, whose approval rating has plummeted by more than 20 points in the space of half a year (34% favorable opinions, according to the latest ARD-DeutschlandTrend barometer, carried out from October 3 to 5, compared to 43% in early June and 56% in early March).

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If they allow Olaf Scholz to save face, Sunday’s results are not a blank check for the government that the latter has led since December 2021 with the Greens and the Liberal Democrats (FDP). While the former achieved great progress (14.5%, +5.8 points compared to 2017), the latter’s dismal score (4.7%, –2.8 points), i.e. less than 5% needed to sit in the regional parliament, risks, in fact, to complicate the task of the Social Democratic chancellor, who finds it increasingly difficult to bring together the two strong men of his team, the environmentalist Robert Habeck (economics) and the liberal Christian Lindner (finance).

contradictions

On Sunday night, several FDP leaders admitted that this debacle, after those in the spring in Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia, now raises the question of the place of the Liberals in government. “Our party has big problems with this coalition”declared its general secretary, Bijan Djir-Sarai, while the FDP finds it increasingly difficult to justify its role as guarantor of budgetary orthodoxy in a government that has just announced a new allocation of 200,000 million euros to deal with the rise in energy prices.

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While it is hard to see what they would have to gain from leaving a government in which they have four of the sixteen ministries (finance, justice, transport, education), the Liberals cannot, however, continue to swallow too many snakes if they want to. remain credible to your electorate. Whether it is about the next budget decisions or the extension of the useful life of nuclear power plants, of which they are strong supporters, their voice will obviously be heard more strongly in the coming weeks, at the risk of further underlining the contradictions of a coalition that, ten months after coming to power, already seems extremely weakened.

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