German elections 2021 – Partisan allegiances anchored in regional identity

It is a sunny Monday at the end of August in the constituency of Emden-Vechta. Tucked away on Germany’s north coast, fishing boats float serenely as tourists stroll around in the early morning – the fresh fish on offer at lunchtime and the region’s Dutch flair seem to be a catch for day trippers .

In the port of Emden, three statues of the three “Delftspuckers” – emulating three unemployed fishermen spitting tobacco in the waters of the Delft – recall the long industrial and maritime history of the region.

At the end of the 16th century, Emden became the most important transshipment port in the North Sea and, 500 years later, continues to play a vital role as one of the three main European ports for the transport of cars, more particularly German vehicles.

Just minutes from the bustling shipyard is a Volkswagen factory. The automaker provides some 10,000 jobs for the region. In the not-so-distant future, Passat models that are currently leaving the production line will be replaced by electric vehicles.

The combination of a largely uninterrupted industry has, over the decades, resulted in strong support for the Social Democrats (SPD). Traditionally the blue collar party, the SPD, like many social democratic parties in Europe, has largely lost its relevance – and in due course voters. But this is less the case here in Aurich-Emden where more than 191,000 people are eligible to vote.

For many residents, voting for SPD is a matter of tradition.

“The popularity probably increased thanks to the large number of workers here in the 1950s, 60s and 70s,” says a local. “People’s parents and grandparents voted for them and it just passed down from generation to generation.”

In the 2017 elections, one in two voters here gave their first vote, which goes to a direct candidate, to Johann Saathoff of the SPD. Almost 38% gave their second vote, which goes to a party, to the SPD.

For Saathoff, a big part of the SPD’s success lies in communicating with voters.

“Even though I work in Berlin and Emden, I’m still reachable,” he says. I think half of the riding has my phone number. For me, the work doesn’t start just three weeks before an election. It starts the day after an election. “

Leaving the region, it is impossible to miss the enormous wind turbines that dot the East Frisian countryside. Their manufacture has also become an important factor for the local economy.

As the turbines disappear in the rearview mirror, we head further south, in the same state of Lower Saxony, to reach Cloppenburg-Vechta. Over 220,000 people here are eligible to vote. And in 2017, nearly 60% of them gave their first vote to Christian Democrat (CDU) candidate Silvia Breher. Just over 53% gave the conservative CDU their second vote or party vote.

Deep in the German countryside, the CDU is as deeply rooted in Cloppenburg-Vechta as Catholicism. The region has the lowest number of people leaving the Catholic Church in all of Germany.

In a food bank, a volunteer says that the Church and the CDU go hand in hand. “All in all, the CDU is all it takes here: namely, Christian and social. And that’s very important.”

As you drive between small towns, roadside statues of Jesus reach out to passers-by. But it was the pigs and less likely divine intervention that brought prosperity to the region.

Imports of animal feed and cultivation of the soil have led to enormous economic growth in the region since the 1960s. The results are exhibited in bricks and mortar, in the form of huge houses owned by farmers and cultivators. of the region. In the postwar years, economic success grew almost simultaneously with that of the CDU.

Today, however, farmers like Silke and Sven Diekhaus are worried about what the future may hold for their industry.

“Due to the change in the way people think, I would say it is getting really, really hard for agriculture,” says Silke, highlighting the push for more sustainable and organic farming.

His partner Sven says the CDU is the best choice to protect the region’s agriculture. “I think green agricultural policy is very ideological,” he says. “They will not be able to feed us in the long run.”

In this remote region where residents depend on their cars, climate protection policy also resonates differently with many voters.

Silvia Breher, CDU direct candidate in Cloppenburg-Vechta, believes that “other ideas” are needed to reduce carbon emissions in the region.

“When Berliners talk about local public transport and the ban on internal combustion engines by 2030, people here say yes, yes, we have to tackle the problem, but life here really depends on cars,” explains Breher.

However, in the heart of southwest Germany, climate protection has long been a priority for voters in Freiburg im Breisgau. After a long journey south, near the French border, we finish our lightning tour of the strongholds of the candidate chancellor party in the stronghold of the Greens.

In the 2017 federal election, the Greens’ direct candidate won 25.7% of the vote, and the party itself 21.2%. In comparison, the Greens walked away with just 8.7% of the vote nationally.

On the trail of the Greens’ campaign, Chantal Kopf, a direct candidate for Freiburg im Breisgau, says that support for the Greens dates back to a nearby protest in 1974 when protesters in Wyhl, near the city of Freiburg, launched into crusade against a planned nuclear power plant in the Kaiserstuhl region.

“This tradition continues,” says Kopf. “Especially among the young people of the Fridays for Future movement, which is particularly well represented here in the region and in Friborg.”

Nestled in the heart of nature in the Black Forest, the picturesque university town of Freiburg became the first city to elect a Green Party mayor almost 20 years ago.

In its desire to become more respectful of the environment, the district prides itself on priority cycle paths and sustainable urban housing projects such as Vauban, where all the houses have been built according to low energy consumption standards.

Two decades after it opened, nearly 6,000 people have made their home in the ecological district – and around 70% of them do without a private car.

“The Greens think of people – the less well off too,” says a resident of Vauban. They don’t have their noses in the air so to speak. And they think of little ones and children – for the future and for nature. “

For all of the major party strongholds, party allegiance has become largely embedded in a region’s identity. But the guaranteed success in their respective strongholds is by no means acquired for any party. Never before have voters been faced with an election during such a rapid period of change. It will be a fight for every vote.

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