All eyes are on the German state of North Rhine – Westphalia this Sunday. It is the first test of Angela Merkel’s six-month old government, and an electoral contest for CDU heavyweight and current state premier Juergen Rüttgers.
The opinion polls suggest he and his FDP allies will not command a majority come tonight, and that the SPD are mounting a strong challenge under Hannelore Kraft.
Defeat at the hands of the opposition would rob Merkel of her upper house majority in parliament, which would slow legislation, especially her plans for lower taxes and reforms.
North Rhine Westphalia also matters because of its size; it is Germany’s most populous state, and is an economic powerhouse for the whole nation. 13.5 million people are eligible to vote, a good cross-section of the electorate. Their message will be heard loud and clear in Berlin.
Angela Merkel went into government with her FDP partners after the SPD lost General Elections badly, and she will be keen to see if the public likes the partnership. If it does not and she loses here, she may find governing harder from now on.