North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) is the westernmost, most populous, and economically most powerful German state, with 18 million people and 22% of German GDP. Its capital is Düsseldorf, the largest city is Cologne (Köln), and other major cities include Dortmund, Essen, Duisburg, Aachen, Bonn, and Münster. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party, along with her coalition ally, the Free Democrat Party, lost control of the province in an election yesterday, and with it, control of the Bundesrat, the German upper house. When former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democratic Party lost control of NRW in 2005, it helped cost Schröder his chancellorship a few months later.
According to a New York Times story, NRW’s voters used Sunday's election to express their displeasure with Germany’s bailout of the heavily indebted Greek government. The bailout is wildly unpopular in Germany. But local issues figured as well; the Christian Democrat leader of NRW was implicated in a fund raising scandal. While Merkel is hurt nationally by the defeat, the loss of NRW at least enables her her to push back against more conservative allies who have been calling for tax cuts in the midst of Germany’s economic crisis. The tax cut proposals now seem dead.