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The CDU drubbing in North Rhine-Westphalia emboldens austerity opponents at home and across the euro zone.
After all, the austerity versus growth debate was very much a part of the North Rhine-Westphalia campaign, with the CDU campaigning on the merits of belt-tightening and budget consolidation, while the SPD and Greens advocated a looser approach to state finances.
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Kraft’s government had fallen over its budget, which envisaged taking on more debt in order to help out cash-strapped cities dealing with the long-term effects of post-industrialization in a state which has a long tradition of steel production and mining. Roettgen had sought to portray the SPD and Greens as profligate spenders, not unlike the much maligned southern Europeans. In North Rhine-Westphalia at least, it seems German voters were happy to see the purse strings eased.
Nevertheless, polls still show that over 60 percent of Germans do not want growth policies in Europe to involve taking on more debt. And around the same number approves of Merkel’s firm handling of the euro crisis.
Yet, that popularity it seems is not translating into support for her party, despite a relatively strong economy and the lowest unemployment levels in 20 years. And if the euro crisis starts to really impact the German economy, then Merkel’s own popularity, never mind that of her party, could rapidly evaporate.