Let’s begin with the difficult question first: Do you know the name of the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia?
Oookay … what about his party affiliation then?
Right – I’ll put you out of your misery and reveal that his name is Jürgen Rüttgers, he’s from the CDU and the CDU/FDP win in the 2005 state elections triggered the early German federal elections in the autumn of 2005. The 2005 NRW election wasn’t the only reason that the Red-Green coalition broke up – it came as the last of a series of disastrous state elections for the SPD – but it tells us that this Sunday’s state election may have implications for the Federal level, and by implication European politics.
As it is, the NRW campaign has had some effects on the European level: Chancellor Angela Merkel sure as hell wouldn’t want any kind of settlement of the Greek crisis which could in any way affect CDU’s chances at the polls. On the other hand, the loss of the CDU-FDP majority in … do you know which city is the capital of NRW? No? Düsseldorf … could be a blessing in disguise for Merkel. If CDU puts in a respectable performance while the FDP gets whacked there is the possibility of a Black-Green coalition taking over. That would definitively liven up proceedings in the Bundesrat.
To Scandinavians, NRW is a curious, somewhat anonymous place. Like many German states it is an artefact created by the Allies after the Second World War combining parts of the Prussian Rhine Province, Westphalia and the state of Lippe. If you have a couple of days to spare, try visiting Bonn, Köln and Düsseldorf – three cities within commuting distance but completely and utterly different in character. Still, the Ruhr District continues to be the symbolic centre of the state which has almost 19 million inhabitants (that is more than all Nordic contries combined) but NRW has also been characterised by the fundamental changes in the German economy leading to the decline of mining and steel industry.
Which election is the most interesting: The NRW state election or the British general election? I will agree with Mattias Tesfaye that Germany is curiously underreported in Danish media (one reason is that most Danes don’t know German anymore, but then again: Why don’t Danes learn German anymore?) and that the UK has a position in international media which is not quite congruent with the country’s international importance. In some ways, the UK is to Europe what New York is to the US. On the other hand, he (and we) should not underestimate the problems a traditional industrial economy as that of the Ruhr has been – and still is – facing. The discussion about the relative merits of the Anglo-Saxon and the Rheinische models of capitalism is a major one in political economy and political science – even if academics tend to see the merits of the German/Continental model, especially when it comes to the creation of jobs, as somewhat more mixed. And we shouldn’t forget Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg which have been the powerhouses of German economy since the 1970s.
Even if we like to ignore Germany, the country is one of the largest markets for Danish services and goods, and therefore the NRW election is of more than peripheral interest. But which election is the most important? The NRW one or the GB one?