The Christian Democratic Party (CDU) is preparing for a major change. After eighteen years of Merkel presidency and two years of “AKK” presidency (named after Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Angela Merkel’s runner-up), the main German political formation will soon have a man again at its head. At the extraordinary party congress to be held on January 15 and 16 by videoconference, the 1,001 delegates will have to choose between Friedrich Merz, Armin Laschet and Norbert Röttgen. In addition to all three of the male gender, these candidates are all Catholics, fathers of three children and from North Rhine-Westphalia, the western region of the country, the most populous in Germany. The change will be almost total in the face of an Angela Merkel, Protestant, childless and from the former East Germany.
Differences in shade
The three candidates in the running are also found on the major current themes. All three are convinced Europeans, eager to compete with environmentalists on climate issues and opposed to any cooperation with the far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD). Their differences are more about their styles and priorities.
Favorite Friedrich Merz is the most critical of the Merkel years and the CDU’s slide to the center. “I want our party to find a clear position”, he often recalls. On the economic and fiscal level, Friedrich Merz is the most liberal of the three, and on the migration issue, central since 2015, he is the most strict. “Friedrich Merz embodies strong conservative positions at the social and cultural level and has the best chance of winning back the voters of the AfD”, judge Nils Diederich of the Free University of Berlin.
This financial lawyer thus presents himself as the man of change even if for some, he embodies the CDU of the early 2000s. Former MEP and former leader of the CDU / CSU parliamentary group, he no longer holds office elected since 2009. The fault, among other things, a quarrel with Angela Merkel.
Rupture or continuity?
The second candidate, Armin Laschet, is on the other hand close to the Chancellor and embodies continuity while advocating an adaptation to the new challenges linked to the pandemic. Current Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia, he has the greatest governmental experience, and often recalls it in this period of fight against the pandemic. Representing the center of the CDU, this elected representative with a round physique wants to be a “Team man”, – in opposition to Friedrich Merz -, and joined forces with the very popular Federal Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, for this presidential race. Supported among others by the current president Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, he has made a comeback in recent days in the polls and is in second position, ahead of Norbert Röttgen.
The latter, chairman of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee, wishes “More feminine, younger, more urban party”. Outsider of this race, this 55-year-old MP has chosen a woman to assist him, supports quotas in his party and advocates a vast plan to digitize the country. “Norbert Röttgen is the most liberal, at the social level, but lacks support within the population and the party”, notes political scientist Nils Diederich.
The candidate for chancellery will wait
Norbert Röttgen has one trump card in the eyes of some, however: he is the only one of the three candidates not to link his possible election as head of the CDU to a candidacy for the chancellery on behalf of the Christian Democratic family. He said he was open to a candidacy from Markus Söder, Minister President of Bavaria and leader of the sister party of the CSU. Because if the future boss of CDU is well and well known this weekend, the candidate for the chancellery, him, will be chosen in consultation with the social Christian union, by spring. With Norbert Röttgen, the doors therefore remain open.
“Whoever the future president of the CDU and the candidate for chancellor of the CDU / CSU, Angela Merkel, with her talent for leading, moderating, finding balance and compromise, cannot be replaced,” notes Herfried Münkler from Humboldt University in Berlin. The election of this Saturday January 16 therefore marks a major turning point in German politics.
Conservatives in the lead, nine months before the election
September 26, 2021. Federal election. Angela Merkel’s CDU and her Bavarian ally, the CSU, are at the top of the polls with more than 30% of the voting intentions.
The Greens with 18 to 20% of the voting intentions, are followed by the Social Democrats of the SPD, evaluated between 14 and 17%. Predictions are rife on the possibility of a government coalition combining the CDU-CSU, the Greens and the SPD.
The far-right AfD party, the leading opposition force, could only win between 8 and 10% of the vote. The Left and the Liberals of the FDP are given between 6 and 8%.