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Merkel's opposition in "shock" after third German state election loss

16 May 2017

Germany's Social Democrat chief Martin Schulz acknowledged on May 15 that his party faced a "rocky road" to national elections, after it was soundly beaten in a key state by Chancellor Angela Merkel's party.

Mr Schulz's comments indicate how Britain's departure from the European Union could become a hostage to fortune in domestic rows across the continent.

With a fifth of Germans - 13.1 million - eligible to vote in North Rhine-Westphalia, an election in the western state is always closely watched for hints to the federal outlook.

The SPD had already suffered two setbacks since Schulz took over, with the CDU scoring strong victories in the small states of Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein.

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Schulz dubbed the result "a hard day for social democracy" shortly after conceding defeat. "We achieved both, I thank everyone for their commitment during the last days", said the CDU's victor, Armin Laschet.

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"And the election of the new French president offers us here the possibility to bring dynamism into the development of Europe", she added. "I hail from the state where we just suffered a crushing election defeat", Schulz stated. "Firstly, because he himself comes from here [this federal state]; secondly, this federal land has always been a mainstay, the main springboard of the SPD, and thirdly, the election here can be viewed as a kind of a general rehearsal [before the big day in September]", Deutsche Welle wrote.

Merkel's party was thought to have been losing relevance in recent years after suffering defeat in several state elections, prompting commentators to anticipate a shift towards non-traditional parties, as seen with the rise in populism in 2016.

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"We still do not know where for example he stands on refugee policy", Niedermayer said.

According to Spiegel Online magazine, the victory in North Rhine-Westphalia is a great success for Merkel.

Because of its large industrial base and support from workers, Germany's most populous province, North Rhine-Westphalia, has been traditionally dominated by the Social Democrats who have been in power in the state for 46 of the past 51 years. The CDU focused its campaign in the state, for decades an SPD stronghold, on attacking the SPD for failing to tackle local issues like crumbling infrastructure that causes huge traffic jams, rising crime and an underperforming education system.

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