The SPD won 39% of the vote and CDU 26%, which is a 8% retreat from their 2010 result. (Oh, and note the 7.8% for the Pirated!) The German media are unanimous that the big winner is the former Nordrhein-Westfalen PM, Hannelore Kraft. Yet another powerful lady from the new generation of German politicians - dynamic, pragmatic and smart. This result has cemented her leadership and her position among the ranks of her party, alongside such huge Merkel rivals like Peer Steinbrück and Franz-Walter Steinmeier. The social-democrat supporters often say that her rationality and reliability are the two qualities that have earned her so much success. And they do have a point - now that the political platforms of both the social-democrats and the conservatives are almost indiscernible from each other, the whole thing is becoming increasingly about personalities. Which can't be a bad thing when you think about it.
The CDU candidate for Nordrhein-Westfalen was Norbert Röttgen, the Minister of the Environment. Now he has been dismissed after the failure. But this probably won't be enough of a damage control. Merkel herself will have to carry most of the burden in coping with the ascent of the German social-democrats, which is coming simultaneously with the rise of the socialists in France and Hollande's victory there. Also some serious internal party problems loom over her within CDU itself. And though any events in Dusseldorf (the capital of the most industrialized province in the north-west) have always had an impact on the political dynamics in Berlin, I'd be cautious and say it's just too early to give any clear predictions about the general election in 2013. Lots of things could happen until then, including things outside of Germany (Greece for example). Besides, Merkel still remains very popular among the Germans, mostly because the stable state of th economy could be attributed to her smart moves, and the pragmatic approach of her cabinet.
Of course Merkel gracefully conceded her defeat in NRW, but she reiterated that this still won't change her position on the fiscal agreement, which Hollande is so eager to review. He flew to Berlin immediately after he was sworn in as president, and no matter how symbolic their meeting might seem, the two leaders were still ready to make this new duo work. "Merkozy" has become "Merkollande", and it must work, otherwise trouble is coming. So they met like partners, they got to know each other as persons and as politicians, and they shared some views on the future of the Euro zone. A useful synchronizing of the watches that comes just in time as preparation for the coming top-ranks EU summit next month.
Because the French socialist party is also gearing up for the parliamentary elections in June, the pressure increases on Hollande to display a more categorical approach towards Merkel, and prove that he's serious in his intentions to popularize the idea of growth-through-stimulus in Europe. As for Greece, he's even more extreme than Merkel in his intention to turn off the tap and stop the European money from leaking through that broken bucket. Especially now that the Greeks have shown a horrific suicidal tendency by electing the nationalists on the latest election, and probably preparing to substitute them with the equally extreme far-left on the next one.