Lower Saxony: elections without prosperity?

Hanover. The message comes at the right time, looks like a reply. It’s Thursday last week Bernd Althusmann, the CDU frontrunner in Lower Saxony, is standing in the pedestrian zone of Wolfsburg, on the market square, angry at the traffic lights in Berlin. He accuses her of indecisiveness, negativity and lack of planning, “this mess can’t be bypassed,” and then the first breaking news broke on cell phones: “Gas price brakes: a traffic light agrees to a billion-dollar package,” she says there.

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Althusmann, 55, white shirt, dark blue jacket and jeans, the man who wants to replace SPD man Stefan Weil as prime minister, can’t see him there. But this is the moment when Schulz’s “double boom” burst into the reality of the election campaign of Lower Saxony – and from that point the question arises as to what that means for this election. So, whether he makes Altusmann, whose “stop signs” have been plastered on his posters, look like a striker who pushed his opponent slightly in the middle of the match. Or whether this 200 billion advertisement in all its vagueness proves that he, the critic, is right.

“Okay, that’s fine,” said a man who stopped on the sidelines of a CDU campaign event after looking at his cell phone and continuing to push his bike. However, he leaves open what he means in this sentence.

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“An insurmountable chaos at the traffic lights”: Bernd Althusmann during the election campaign in Wolfsburg.

In any case, there is clearly one theme that determines where the state elections will take place in Lower Saxony next Sunday: the energy crisis and what people expect in the coming months. “I’ve never seen an election campaign where people get so anxious,” Stefan Weil said the next day at a party in Hildesheim. Althusmann, his opponent, speaks in Wolfsburg of the many old people who come to him and say: “I don’t know what will come of me.”

There is no shortage of other subjects in Lower Saxony. Those with school-age children can usually contribute stories about canceled lessons or only part-time sports lessons, in rural areas people complain about poor bus and train connections or long distances to the nearest doctor’s office.

The largest gas deposits

However, this choice is likely to be determined more by the question of what temperature people can tolerate in winter in reasonably good conscience. And it is a question at least for Lower Saxony, since here energy issues are usually also state issues: in Lower Saxony, in Rieden, it is the largest gas storage facility in the republic, and in Lingen there are one of three nuclear power plants still in operation . The largest remaining gas deposits are located under the soil of Lower Saxony, at the same time a particularly large number of wind turbines are operated here. “If I were the prime minister of Bavaria or Baden-Württemberg…” is the way Weil often begins his sentences these days, which is actually always fairly persuasive advice against countries that have taken a great interest in renewables and energy security in the years Last.

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But even in Lower Saxony one cannot derive security from this, and this also applies to the political situation a few days before the elections: opinion polls currently see the SPD ahead of the CDU, which has steadily recovered in recent months . . The Greens are far behind, and the AfD has recently grown significantly, which may also be an effect of the energy uncertainty. On the other hand, the FDP has been dancing around the five percent limit, despite the generally recognized strong opposition work in recent years, and has so far been unable to challenge the nationalist trend.

Playground for political nostalgia

Political nostalgia can now view Lower Saxony with a certain amount of joy. Almost as in the past, the two parties who still consider themselves popular parties in Germany are facing each other here, albeit 10 percent less than in the past. Just because the direct demarcation of the top candidates in a state duel is not easy, they have a lot in common. Hysteria or other extravagance of character is somewhat foreign to both former administrative judge Will and former professional officer Altusmann, as people “get on well with one another,” Althusmann says.

Both had been ruling relatively quietly in a grand coalition in Hanover since 2017, Althusmann as Economy Minister and Weil’s deputy. In the past few weeks both have advocated for gas price braking at an early stage, Will in particular has pushed the chancellor along with it, and in the past few days he has even posted a model of how those brakes work.

But at least with the greater similarities they were already there.

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Wolfsburg’s market square is not really a place of great passions, at least this afternoon. About two dozen listeners gathered on the seats in front of Althusmann’s Wahlmobil, an old-fashioned silver trailer between H&M and Saturn and the mobile provider’s wheel of fortune. However, Altussmann, whose soft, dark voice is better suited to quiet stories, still manages to deliver his attacks on traffic lights with a liveliness that is believable in terms of gesture and tone.

Berlin’s “insurmountable chaos” occurs multiple times, and he warns of the “silent death of the middle class” and bakeries that will have to close en masse if the traffic lights are still hesitant. Unlike Will and, above all, Federal Economy Minister Robert Habeck, Althusmann also wants to keep the Lingen nuclear power plant running.

Rising energy costs dominate the election campaign in Lower Saxony

There is no topic as dominant in the election campaign in Lower Saxony as the question of rising energy prices. The two parties hardly agree on this issue.

Bernd and the Fighter

This sharp demarcation from Berlin was well received, at least by his supporters that day in Wolfsburg. The CDU member admits in passing that he used to fight with Bernd. “But this fight suits him.”

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And Althusmann doesn’t stop there when the event is already over and he’s asked about 200 billion traffic lights. Of course, this does not remove the wind from his sails, on the contrary, the chaos is now perfect, and much remains unclear.

However, Bernd Altusmann still has at least another important opponent: these are the best personal poll numbers of his direct competitor. Even some CDU supporters would vote for Weil in a direct comparison.

“Never had he encountered so many people involved”: Stefan Weil during the election campaign in Hildesheim.

In any case, mobilization works best for him the next day, and the market square in Hildesheim is reasonably full when Weil invites you to a public discussion with him and the local candidate for state parliament. This may be due to the most favorable date, early Friday evening – or also to the fact that the appearance of the Prime Minister is a good opportunity to demonstrate. Anyway, there are also guys from Friday for Future, from Extinction Rebellion and those who oppose the expansion of the southern motorway in Hanover.

There are beer mugs on the tables, on which you can write questions. What is more about it is not surprising.

Will says he was “really happy” with about 200 billion. He sees it as a “big hit”. “The state should protect the people, they should not stand alone,” he continues. Applause between the half-timbered facades of Hildesheim Market Square. Because it now looks like Scholz. Except that he has been able to largely separate himself from the SPD’s rather modest opinion poll numbers.

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limits of pragmatism

Will, blue suit, dark red jacket, 63, has been prime minister since 2013, before he was mayor of Hanover. It is based on his experience, “I’ve often been…”, “I know very well…”, these are phrases he uses often, and because he has a gentle form of irony and the ability to listen he leaves a reliable feeling of being taken seriously during such These visits are on site. Weil would probably describe his current political style as “pragmatic”. However, for now it is certain that this is part of the imagination. Weil also says in Hildesheim that if it were practical, it would also be something for the continuous operation of the nuclear power plant in Lingen. But that’s not all, because Lower Saxony does not have an electricity problem.

Of course, this only partially concerns Lower Saxony. On the other hand, it would be realistic to expect Lower Saxony to implement hydraulic fracturing, which is very unpopular there and which experts now consider low-risk after significant progress has been made. However, Will, who is more a state politician than a pragmatist, rejects this, as does his CDU rival.

The end of the marriage of convenience

If the prime minister is elected outright, it would be clear who would: Vail has a big lead here. But of course it doesn’t work that way. Will now would like to form a coalition with the Greens again, as he was in his first term in office, but according to opinion polls, that is not entirely certain. On the other hand, the CDU wants to become the stronger party and therefore hopes, because the FDP will not be enough, to purge the Green Party on the basis of the North Rhine-Westphalian model. The distance to left-leaning alternatives in Lower Saxony with its anti-nuclear tradition is traditionally great.

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On the other hand, Stefan Weil and Bernd Altusmann agree that their time together should end now. The similarities were exhausted five years later, as they coined them almost word for word. Seems like a consensual breakup. However, an unfavorable election outcome could force them to hold together again. When it comes to joy and anger over the 200 billion packages from Berlin, it can be a tough relationship.

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