Berlin Within the CDU, there are increasing voices not to hold the federal party congress in December as a face-to-face party congress, but rather digitally. With the number of infections rising, concerns are growing about the signal the party could send to the public if it got together with 1001 delegates.
“Politically, it cannot be conveyed that we meet for a party congress while the rest of the country has to stay at home,” said the party leadership, as the Handelsblatt learned. This would again question when the party will elect a new chairman.
The first signals to cancel the planned election party conference in Stuttgart came in the middle of last week. In the preliminary meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the prime ministers of the countries on the corona situation, it had been shown that a further increase in the number of infections in autumn and winter can be expected and then large events could hardly take place, as participants in the round afterwards reported. Therefore, there was quick talk among Union Prime Ministers of postponing the party congress.
In February, CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced her withdrawal. Since then, the party has been more or less leaderless. The party conference scheduled for the end of April to clarify the open leadership issue had to be canceled due to the corona crisis. “Lethargy” is now spreading, it was said.
So far there are only three candidates: Armin Laschet, head of the largest regional association and Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, who is supported by Jens Spahn, member of the Presidium and Federal Minister of Health; Friedrich Merz, representative of the economic wing, and Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. But how should the successor be determined?
“In view of the increasing incidence for Germany and, in this case, for Stuttgart, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get the 1001 delegates to arrive and to let them stay at least one night,” said the Presidium. There are “new considerations”.
Initially, the Berlin party headquarters were considering moving the party congress to a city with a lower number of infections. In the meantime, however, the Chancellor’s decision to restrict events from 35 infections per 100,000 inhabitants stands in the way.
“We are waiting for the party congress to be canceled and rescheduled”
Exceptions should only be made if the local health department approves hygiene concepts. There is indeed a strict concept for the party conference in Stuttgart. However, Merkel even canceled the informal EU summit on China policy in November in Berlin on Friday. “In terms of reducing contact, I think this is a necessary message,” she said, explaining the decision. The summit had only been decided two weeks earlier. Union faction leader Ralph Brinkhaus followed on Sunday.
The country is in the biggest crisis since it was founded, he said in the “Tagesspiegel”. “In the top five of our agenda is not who will be party chairman.” The CDU is aware of its “role model function”.
In the meantime, it is also said in the party: “We are waiting for the party congress to be canceled and rescheduled.” The discussion is to cancel the party congress and postpone it to the coming year. However, the goal remains to hold the party congress this year. This is the only way to have enough time to prepare the party for the federal election. The option: a digital party conference.
At the beginning of October, the Bundestag made digital party conferences and resolutions possible – in times of pandemics even with board elections. It is therefore possible to vote at different locations as well as to vote by post.
The Junge Union (JU) demonstrated on Saturday how the digital party congress could run. Laschet, Merz and Röttgen met together on a stage in Berlin and answered the questions of the digitally connected party offspring. It was about education, innovations, digital, sustainability and intergenerational equity as well as modern party structures. Before that, each candidate was allowed to advertise themselves and their positions for five minutes.
“This is a special format,” said Laschet in his opening statement. He promoted “social cohesion” and his crisis management in the corona crisis. Merz campaigned for an “ecological modernization of the social market economy“. Röttgen emphasized that a “program of renewal” was necessary for the party and the country in this “epochal break”. A debate did not arise, 90 minutes later the questioning ended. JU boss Tilman Kuban then opened a two-week member survey at the push of a button.
The federal party congress could run similarly. Kuban has been promoting digital formats for a long time. “The CDU should come to an election in December, no matter how,” he said. However, there are still doubts as to whether the form of a party congress is really in accordance with the party law, which provides for face-to-face party conventions, especially for elections. The CDU, for example, wants to redefine not only the chairman, but the entire federal executive board – runoff elections are not excluded.
The Bundestag has decided to change the law, said Sophie Schönberger, constitutional lawyer from Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf. In terms of craftsmanship, however, the regulation is “down-to-earth, and one may well have constitutional doubts about it, but as long as nobody attacks the law before the Federal Constitutional Court, which it does not look like, the CDU would be on the safe side for the time being”.
The left also faces problems
The only party that will elect a new board this year is the Left – and they too will react, as the Handelsblatt learned from party circles. “We try to choose the chairperson in any case,” confirmed the spokeswoman. The board of directors will decide this Monday how the party congress will take place in Erfurt. The discussion is that the candidates will present themselves digitally and that the on-site election will be made by the delegates. “It’s definitely not going to go as planned,” she said.
Since the party congress is to take place at the end of October, a digital format with postal voting is no longer possible, it said. In such a case, the question of how long applicants can still register should be clarified. In the case of the Left, this would be possible until the party congress – incidentally, also in the case of the CDU, which means that the postal voting documents could only be created later. The party would still have to decide on a corresponding rule change in advance.
The CDU is still officially covered and refers to October 26th. Then the presidium wants to decide whether and how the party congress takes place in order to elect a new chairman and board. “In fact, all of this will have to be assessed again according to the latest concepts,” Laschet said himself on Friday.
The party had already canceled the debate on a basic program and cut the meeting from three to one day. The Greens, on the other hand, will discuss their basic program digitally from November 20-22. The party conference in Karlsruhe was canceled.
With a digital format, the CDU would still have to clarify the question of when applicants can register. There has been speculation about other candidates for weeks. A woman like Julia Klöckner was discussed, as was Jens Spahn, a member of the Presidium and Laschet’s colleague, who was planned to be the party vice.
JU boss Kuban makes no secret of the fact that he and the party offspring would vote for Spahn. He will “play an essential role in the party,” he said. At the 2018 party conference, the majority of the JU delegates supported Merz. Rumors about Spahn have been circulating for a long time and now also surveys that he is the most popular candidate for the CDU chairmanship – and that CSU boss Markus Söder should become a candidate for chancellor.
Spahn still supports Laschet and stubbornly denies, as Söder also adores when asked. But the fact that Laschet and Spahn are not friends is just as much an open secret in the party as the fact that the three current candidates do not spark any enthusiasm.
Söder is currently responsible for that: a good half of the German citizens and almost three quarters of the Union supporters consider him a good candidate for chancellor, as the latest “Germany trend” on ARD has shown.
More: Harmless application round without a winner – Laschet, Merz and Röttgen focus on the same topics.