State vote in Germany may signal the end of austerity consensus
Greece, France, and the most populous state in Germany -- what they have in common is opposition to Germany's austerity plans to deal with the monumental debt problems of the euro zone.
And Angela Merkel, Germany's embattled Chancellor, could suffer the electoral consequences of this fracturing of the austerity coalition. The Greek government that negotiated the bailout was defeated in last week's elections and is likely to elect a far left government in next month's second round of voting that will reject the terms of the EU/IMF bailout. And Merkel's partner in the austerity coalition, Nicholas Sarkozy, was also ousted by socialist Francois Hollande, who promised to restore budgdet cuts and perks to unions and students.
Now Merkel faces defeat in an important state election.
Voting began on Sunday in Germany's most populous state where Angela Merkel's conservatives face a defeat that could give the left momentum before next year's federal election and fuel criticism of the chancellor's European austerity drive.
The vote in NRW follows elections in Greece, France and Italy that highlighted a growing backlash against austerity.
A decisive victory for the SPD would be seen by many as a double defeat for the chancellor - NRW would be rejecting her party and the fiscal discipline she has forced on heavily indebted euro zone countries like Greece.
Kraft, who has run a fragile minority government with the Greens for two years, has won over voters by promising a go-slowly approach to cutting NRW's 180-billion-euro ($233 billion) debt, dodging accusations of fiscal mismanagement by the CDU.
North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), an industrial state in western Germany with an economy and population roughly the size of the Netherlands, has a history of influencing national politics.
First exit polls were due at 1600 GMT and expected to show Hannelore Kraft of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) trouncing her Christian Democrat (CDU) rival Norbert Roettgen, who is Merkel's environment minister.
"The SPD will get back in," said Helmut Krah, a voter in the NRW capital Duesseldorf who was window-shopping with his wife on the elegant Koenigsallee. "I'm voting for them not because they are good but because the others are so bad."
The vote is likely to bolster SPD fortunes nationwide and make Merkel, Germany's most popular politician, look politically vulnerable for the first time in a long while.
So the people of Europe are going to see what happens when governments try to spend their way to prosperity while virtually ignoring the continued build up of debt. It will almost certainly be a train wreck, of course -- at least for Greece that is now given a 75% chance of defaulting.
There's no way to get where the Europeans want to go from where they are now without reform. Any contrary notions are fantasies constructed by opportunistic leftist politicians who have been successful in convincing voters that they can have their cradle to grave welfare state and not pay for it. And when the day of reckoning comes, they will blame the rich and the banks and anyone except their own idiotic policies.