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In German Elections, Major Research Region Goes Green

Yesterday's state elections in Germany were a clear setback for Angela Merkel's coalition. It also means a significant political change for Baden-Wuerttemberg, the state in southwest Germany that is a research powerhouse. That has some German scientists looking to the future with uncertainty.

Baden-Wuerttemberg includes the cities of Heidelberg, Karlsruhe, Freiburg, Tuebingen, and Stuttgart, home to a number of Germany's top universities and research institutes. Politics in Baden-Wuerttemberg has been dominated by Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) since the end of World War II. The CDU has been in charge there, uninterrupted, for 58 years. Yesterday, however, the party and its coalition partner, the Free Democrats, lost their parliamentary majority.

The big winner was the Green party. With 24% of the vote, it edged out the Social Democrats, who had 23%. That means that for the first time in German history, a member of the Green party will be minister-president of a state. (The position is roughly equivalent to governor in the United States.)

The national Green party's stance against genetically modified crops has some plant scientists wary. "I am watching with keen interest" as the new coalition takes shape, says Ralf Reski, chair for plant biotechnology at the University of Freiburg. "Things could become more difficult for biotechnology research" under the new government. Yet Reski says he is cautiously optimistic. He notes that the state's Green party has long been more pragmatic than many in the party's national leadership. "Change is always good for democracy," he says. "There may be positive surprises."

The Green party has also been strongly against nuclear power from its founding days in the 1980s, which didn't hurt its popularity in the wake of the continuing problems at Japan's Fukushima reactor. In addition to its Baden-Wuerttemberg success, the party made significant gains in Sunday's other election in the neighboring state of Rhineland-Palatinate.