The first referendum on Angela Merkel’s first six months is taking the form of a big state election in Germany today. 13.5 million people in North Rhine -Westpahlia are going to the polls.
It is Germany’s most populous state, and has an economy the size of Poland and the Czech republic combined, so Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats are keen to hold onto it.
But it will not be easy. Lose the Rhineland and the government loses control of the upper house of parliament, and that will curb its power to legislate freely. It is the home of key cities like Dusseldorf and Cologne, and , six months since Merkel shook the SPD out of coalition and brought the FDP on board, the vote is being seen as the first test of her second government.
Incumbent Juergen Rüettgers CDU and the local FDP have a power-sharing deal in North Rhineland – Westphalia, and the opinion polls suggest the partnership is not on course for a majority.
They have been talking up proposed middle class tax cuts a loss of the upper house majority might endanger, but the opposition SPD’s campaign has made inroads on their vote.