German politics enter this Saturday (16) in one of the periods of greatest conflicts and uncertainties of the last two decades. In an online vote this weekend, 1,001 delegates will choose the new leader of Germany’s main party, CDU (Christian Democratic Union), from current Chancellor Angela Merkel.
More than an internal dispute, the decision affects party leadership and Germany’s own policy. After 16 years in power, Merkel has already announced that she will not be running for a new term, leaving the battle open for her succession in the parliamentary elections in September.
Saturday’s contest features three candidates with different political views: centrist Armin Laschet, premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, relatively progressive Norbert Röttgen, former environment minister, and more to the right Friedrich Merz, a corporate lawyer .
But none of them come close to Merkel’s popularity, which creates another dose of uncertainty over the prime minister’s succession: the growing chance that two more politicians will run for Chancellor. In this parallel sequence are the current Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, and the Bavarian Prime Minister, Markus Söder.
Spahn denies any intention of running and, in Saturday’s election, supports Laschet, who could become the underdog in the conflict. Finally in the polls, the journalist is closest to Merkel and presents herself as a guarantee of the continuity of the centrism promoted by her. In debates, he argued that people do not want a break with the Chancellor’s era of stability. This week, he received the endorsement of five party leaders from the east and west of the country.
Now Söder, the current leader of the CSU (CDU’s little sister in Bavaria), is watching the dispute from the outside, hoping for a victory for Röttgen — which analysts say could give him more chances in the Chancellor nomination, which will likely occur in March.
The selection of the candidate for chancellor is made jointly by the CDU and CSU, but Merkel’s party, much larger than the CSU, is usually preferred. The Bavarian younger sister lost her choice the two times she proposed a candidate.
Söder, however, can change this story. The Bavarian politician has not confirmed his interest in the vacant post, but he is by far the favorite among Germans for the post, both among those declaring their vote in the CDU-CSU and among voters in general. 54% and 38%, respectively, say that with him as prime minister, Merkel’s party would win more easily in parliamentary elections.
In this Saturday’s vote, however, it was Merz who led the preference for CDU delegates, at least in the polls. His election would represent a turn to the right and a first step towards the recovery of the voters who have given life to the ultra-right AfD in recent years, unhappy with Merkel’s immigration policy.
But the bloc inside the CDU fears that an overly conservative course will further strengthen a coalition on the left (with Greens and Social Democrats), which could lead Merz to defeat in a second round of internal choice – the vote is secret. For a significant part of the party, the best way to maintain strength and relevance is precisely a coalition with the Green Party, the second electoral force in Germany today.
The Greens would have 20% of the vote if parliamentary elections were held today, according to the latest Politbarometer, just behind Merkel’s party, with 37%. The Social Democratic SPD comes third, with 16%. The far-right AfD party received 10% of the intentions, the left 8% and the FDP (center-right) 5%.
For analysts like Sophia Besch, a researcher at the Center for European Reform, and Christian Odendahl, the think tank’s chief economist, besides the profusion of viable candidates for Merkel’s succession, the CDU must also take into account how the Chancellor repositioned the party and German politics itself within 16 years of his government.
The danger, for them, is that Merkel’s departure will remove the belt that held a large coalition of voters around the CDU, which gave her almost the majority of votes in 2013. The Chancellor’s style of postponing her decisions until a consensus was formed, it was important to keep it in a central position without underestimating the more conservative or progressive wings of the party.
“Merkel has never been involved in ‘culture war’ policies, refusing to use conflicts over values and beliefs to garner support from staunch supporters and divide constituencies,” write analysts.
During her rule, for example, she allowed the approval of same-sex marriage, which she personally opposed, and shut down the country’s nuclear reactors, despite heated controversy. Its performance in the immigration crisis in 2015 also won the CDU some of the voters of foreign origin, who previously mistrusted conservative parties and favored social democrats and left-wing politicians.
No matter who Merkel’s successor is, he will not be able to count on the political strength of 84% approval among Germans, obtained by acting in the fight against Covid-19 – a goodwill that tends to subside when the pandemic is. controlled. Without this political backbone, the importance of coalitions in forming government increases.
“Under Merkel, the coalition partner did not matter to Europe. It was she who decided the course of German politics. A different coalition under a new leadership may not have Merkel’s experience or authority, ”Besch and Odendahl say.
Analysts believe that any future chancellor elected by the CDU will preserve Merkel’s legacy in favor of the European Union and America’s vision as a crucial partner. But the course of the party can make a difference on issues like behavior or immigration.
Critics of Merz view his comments about gays and refugees as prejudiced, and he is frankly less popular with women and voters in the center, a key part of Merkel’s strength during her 16 years in power. In addition, the five names likely to take the Chancellor’s place are men.
Merkel had bet on a woman as her successor, former Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who took over the party leadership in 2018. AKK, as she is known, ended up resigning in a leadership crisis brought on by an alliance between the CDU and the ultra-right AfD in the state of Thuringia in February, ending plans for a smooth transition.
The new framework could put Merkel back into the female electorate since 2005. The CDU has once again become the main choice for women in elections since 2009, but a more hostile outlook could push voters towards the Green Party, second for female preference to the elections. 2017 elections.
WHO ARE CANDIDATES
TO THE DIRECTORATE OF THE CDU
Journalist, he is the current Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous state in Germany. Central Catholic, as governor, he made the protection of industry a priority.
His handling of the pandemic was rated poor (public health is a state competence in Germany) and he is the candidate least likely to lead the CDU to victory, according to Germans in general and among voters in his party (4%, in a survey conducted per month). But the two-round election could turn you into a surprise.
Under his leadership, the CDU would try to keep the center and the conservative wing together.
A lawyer, he is a former Federal Minister of the Environment, considered a modernizer at the CDU and relatively progressive, although he voted against gay marriage. He is chairman of the German Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee (Bundestag).
For 11% of voters in general and 8% of those who vote for the CDU-CSU, he would be the most likely candidate for chancellor in the general election. Her victory as leader would mean maintaining Merkel’s caution.
Its progressive profile may, however, push some voters to the liberal right (FDP) or the extreme right (AfD).
A millionaire corporate lawyer, he ran for CDU leadership in 2018 and narrowly lost to AKK. He is a hard-line, pro-business conservative, and was one of Merkel’s biggest rivals in the early 2000s.
According to this month’s poll, 18% of Germans and 21% of those who vote for the party believe that as a candidate for chancellor he would give the CDU-CSU the best chance. His victory would put the party on the right, keeping an eye on AfD votes, but it could push even more Green Party voters.
WHO ELSE CAN BECOME A CANDIDATE FOR A PRIZE
Current Federal Minister of Health, he holds degrees in political science and law. From the conservative wing of the party, he competed for the CDU leadership election in 2018, but fell behind Merz and AKK.
Gay and married, he could attract a younger crowd than traditional party voters. Its popularity, on the rise for several months after the pandemic, has been affected in recent weeks by the vaccination campaign, deemed slow.
Only 9% of Germans and 7% of CDU-CSU voters bet on him as the party’s best candidate for chancellor.
Current head of the CSU (“minority partner” of the CDU) and Prime Minister of Bavaria, he is a law graduate and professional politician since 1994. At the start of Merkel’s ultra-conservative and critical attitude, he became a leader environmentalist and a supporter of the Chancellor.
With growing popularity, he appears ahead of the other four in party members’ preference for prime minister, and he can join Röttgen with an eye on that opportunity.