Scholz's Social Democrats win Bremen state vote, Greens slump

By Sarah Marsh and Andreas Rinke

BERLIN (Reuters) -Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democrats won an election on Sunday in Germany's smallest state, Bremen, in a vote that could give a modest lift to the centre-left party which has seen its popularity slide nationally.

The state is not deemed a political bellwether for other parts of Germany given its specific characteristics and its small size with around 683,000 inhabitants in Bremen city and its Bremerhaven North Sea port.

By contrast, the states of Bavaria and Hesse, which will hold elections in October, together comprise nearly a quarter of Germany's population of 83.2 million.

Still, the traditional SPD stronghold - a car hub that is turning into a key port for the growing offshore wind industry - is the first federal state to hold a fresh election this year.

Projected results published by the local statistics office put the SPD in pole position on 29.5%, up 4.6 percentage points from the last election in 2019 when it suffered a bitter loss to the conservatives. Despite the defeat four years ago, it was still able to retain the mayorship after forming a coalition with the environmentalist Greens and far-left Left party.

Sunday's result, if confirmed, would be around 10 percentage points better than the SPD is polling on a national level where it has slumped since the 2019 federal election amid a cost-of-living crisis in the wake of the Ukraine war.

"The number one in Bremen - that's us," said Mayor Andreas Bovenschulte, whose popularity contributed to the win.

The conservatives came in second place in Bremen on 25.8%, down 0.9 percentage points on their 2019 result, according to the projected results.

Meanwhile both parties partnering with the SPD in Scholz's federal coalition, the Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP), suffered losses in Bremen.

The Greens took the worst hit with 11.8%, down 5.6 percentage points.

"We need to look at what we did wrong," said Omid Nouripour, Greens co-chief, saying this was also a reflection on the party's performance at national level.

The party has come under fire in recent months for its energy and climate policies - in particular a law banning most new oil and gas heating systems from 2024 - that critics say will put too great a burden on households and are not sufficiently thought-through.

Lately it has also faced accusations of cronyism in the Greens-run economy ministry, which it rejects.

The pro-business Free Democrats scored 5.2%, down 0.7 percentage points, according to the projected results, and only marginally above the 5% threshold to enter parliament - a hurdle it failed to clear in three state votes.

The Left party scored 11.5% and the right-wing populist party Buerger in Wut (Citizens in Rage) 9.5%.

Support for the Buerger in Wut jumped after the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has surged in nationwide polls to 15-17%, was absent from the ballot in Bremen due to internal divisions.

Final results were expected on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh, Andreas Rinke, Alexander Ratz and Victoria Waldersee; editing by Mark Heinrich, Matthias Williams, Ros Russell and Cynthia Osterman)