• Olivier Lawrie

Auf Wiedersehen Angela, Servus Annalena: Exploring the Christian Democratic Union’s (CDU) electoral

For months, the lives of citizens all over the world have been marred by uncertainty. As for those in Germany and the European Union, this uncertainty has existed in stark contrast to the certainty that the end of an immutable force of German and European politics is on the horizon: as of 27 September 2021, Angela Merkel will no longer be chancellor of the Federal Republic. Though Merkel announced this over two years ago[1], it is still unclear how the political vacuum that is soon to be left in her wake would be filled.

After a lengthy power struggle between two current state premieres, the moderate Armin Laschet of North Rhine-Westphalia and the conservative Markus Söder of Bavaria, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) decided in January that Laschet would be the next chancellor candidate. Laschet represents both a decision for continuity from the CDU, and the influence Merkel is trying to exude over the party even at the time of her imminent departure. With Laschet holding a moderate political ideology and strong relationship with Merkel – having previously been described as ‘Merkel’s right hand man’[2] – Germany’s potential choice to return a CDU chancellor this September can mean that the international political scene can expect a somewhat eased transition into the post-Merkel period.

In such a politically volatile time, it many appear like the conservatives are playing it safe: the centrist model has consistently appealed to the German electorate for the last 16 years, so why change strategies now? It would seem that the CDU has prioritised political continuity over reacting to a changing political landscape. In this sense, Laschet’s nomination acts as the exact opposite of playing it safe: it is a political gamble. The CDU is wagering that their reputation over the last 16 years with Merkel’s centrism at the heart of their policy agenda will be more appealing to the electorate than the change guaranteed by the election of another party. Not only was the choice of candidate against political momentum, with Söder triumphing comprehensively in prospective leadership polling[3], but the seeds for a shift in the traditional domination by the CDU and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) were sewn in the results of the most recent national elections in 2017, when traditional fringe parties performed well; the right-wing extremist party the Alternative for Germany is going to be represented in the German parliament for the first time[4].

Traditionally, the CDU go head to head with the SPD for the chancellery; since 1948 there has not been one occasion where neither the CDU nor the SPD have formed part of the governing coalition[5]. It is widely expected that the CDUs stiffest competition will come from the German Green Party. Led by the respected but politically inexperienced Annalena Baerbock, this party has disassociated itself from its left-wing foundations, and now presents itself as a politically viable alternative in the mainstream of German politics[6]. Given recent poll results[7] that indicate the Greens will gain approximately 28% of the vote, it is widely expected that they will hold enough political capital to be the majority partner of a governing coalition, or be able to demand significant concessions from the winning party if they were to lend their support as a minority partner.

This predicted shift will impact Germany on a domestic level, of course, but the ramifications of this change will also be felt far beyond their, and the European Union’s, borders. Should the current polls be reflective of the Greens’ success come September, expect intense resistance to the fundamental aspects of the foreign policy that has guided Germany for the past 16 years. The CDU has always approached foreign policy with a sight to keeping trade and economic activity open with sanctioned foreign powers. From their manifesto, it is clear the Green party do not subscribe to the Wandel durch Handel (English: change through trade) policy of the CDU, whereby economic ties are protected so as to facilitate dialogue. The Greens have committed to scrapping the Nord Stream 2[8], a natural gas pipeline from Russia backed by the CDU, and are prepared to apply economic sanctions to foreign powers who violate the conditions of prior trade agreements[9].

The European Union has the potential to profit immensely from the outcome of the elections, with the right winners. If the CDU does indeed win a majority, Head of the EU Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen will find an ally in Berlin. With both Laschet and Von Der Leyen being in the same party, holding a centrist political ideology and even having both served together as deputy chairs of the CDU[10]; this established working relationship would certainly ease the transition into a post-Merkel political landscape, as well as assuring that Von Der Leyen receives wholesale support from Europe’s largest economy for her European agenda.

Although a Green government would result in a greater divergence of political ideology between the EU Commission and the Germany, the European Commission should also recognize the advantages such a result would offer the European Union on a domestic and international level. Given the EU’s commitment to engaging with and overcoming the climate emergency, having the largest economy in Europe led by the Greens would not only set precedent across Europe that the Green party can govern effectively (and that it is economically viable to implement pro-environmental policy), but it would also serve to better the image of the EU on the world stage, provided that both it and its institutions are at the forefront of solving the climate emergency, where others may appear to be lagging behind.

Come September, the CDU will be in uncharted waters. They will be campaigning without Merkel, they will have to see off the credible threat of a surging Green party, and perhaps most importantly, they will have do this in the context of all the socioeconomic damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. We can only wait to see if the gamble will pay off.

[1]https://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2018-10/cdu-angela-merkel-parteivorsitz-liveblog [2] https://www.dw.com/en/armin-laschet-the-cdus-chancellor-candidate/a-57092183 [3] https://app.civey.com/dashboards/laschet-vs-soder-historie-5396 [4] https://www.bundeswahlleiter.de/info/presse/mitteilungen/bundestagswahl-2017/34_17_endgueltiges_ergebnis.html [5] https://www.bundestag.de/parlament/wahlen/ergebnisse_seit1949-244692 [6] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000v9ct [7] https://www.wahlrecht.de/umfragen/forsa.htm [8] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-election-greens-nord-stream-idUSKBN2BB0ZS [9]https://cms.gruene.de/uploads/documents/20210311_Grundsatzprogramm_EN.pdf P101 [10] http://www.hannover2012.cdu.de/wahlen

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