27 June 2022

Monday, 00:40


Germany at a crossroads on the finish line of the Merkel era



The year of 2021 began with a double fiasco for the CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union - Christian Social Union) political bloc – the alliance led by the incumbent German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the past 18 years until 2018. She remains the unofficial leader of CDU, formally giving the reins of government to other hands.

Throughout Merkel's political career, her personal vote of confidence has always been much higher than that of the party. Mainly due to her popularity, Christian Democrats have been the ruling party of the past 16 years, sometimes forming alliances with the Social Democrats (SPD) as a senior partner, as they do now.

And now the Merkel era is coming to an end. In 2018, she voluntarily resigned as head of the party so that the new leadership had time to prepare for the federal parliamentary elections in September 2021.

However, from the very beginning, something went wrong. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who replaced Merkel, announced her rejection almost a year later, faced with a low popularity rating among the people and internal party problems. Only because of the COVID-19 epidemic, she continued to act as chairman until the CDU congress took place in January 2021. It was won by Armin Laschet.

But he was not more popular than his predecessor either. Plus he got the power in the party not in the best times. In addition to the problems with the epidemic and the associated economic crisis, which the ruling party is also responsible for, major corruption scandals involving the members of the CDU / CSU parliamentary bloc flared up in the country.

This explains the disastrous results of the very first elections this year in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Although in January in Baden-Württemberg the CDU was leading the polls with 32% of the votes, the real outcome of elections for CDU was simply shocking - 24%. Compared to the elections five years ago, the party lost 3% in one land and 4% in another.

However, all major parties have lost their votes in both federal states. The only ones who succeeded were the greens – a 2.3% increase in Baden-Württemberg compared with the elections five years ago, and a 4% grow in Rhineland-Palatinate. These indicators once again confirmed that, disillusioned with the Christian Democrats, former voters, as a rule, vote for the greens.


CDU is not convincing

“It is impossible to understand the passivity of Christian Democrats,” experts say noticing how calmly the leaders of CDU received their defeat in March and the catastrophic drop in confidence among the people as a whole.

Certainly, the party takes some measures to counter the tendency. For example, MPs who had compromised themselves were asked to resign, while others were forced to write a Declaration of Honour in which MPs from the CDU / CSU bloc vowed that they did not receive any financial benefits in connection with the fight against the pandemic. A code of conduct for officials and MPs was also urgently adopted with a long list of what officials and legislators should not do. However, all this was not convincing to voters.

They expect ideas and programs from Armin Laschet - where and how the game should go with him. The new chairman must draw a long-term perspective, new guidelines for the CDU and its supporters. To no avail yet. Although Merkel, taking on the current fight against the pandemic and the crisis, has thus given Laschet enough time to prepare for the role of chancellor.

So far, only 14-24% (in various polls) of Germans believe that Laschet's candidacy is suitable for the leader of the country. In approval ratings, he lags far behind Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder, a bloc colleague and leader of CSU supported by about 50% of voters. Among the supporters of the ruling bloc, Laschet is even less popular. He is preferred by 12%, while Söder by 63% of the voters.

Perhaps that is why Laschet is delaying the decision to nominate a candidate from the CDU / CSU bloc, stating that this issue will be considered in the period between Easter and Pentecost, that is in April-May.


Doubtful reputation

Over the past few weeks, TV viewers sometimes had an impression that the course of the ruling CDU / CSU bloc in discussions on how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic is determined by the head of the CSU, Markus Söder. Too often he appears on talk shows.

Although the leaders of Bavaria, and, accordingly, the junior partners of CDU in the bloc have never become chancellors, there is an increasing number of people calling to break the tradition and nominate Markus Söder. It is not about keeping traditions and not even about preserving the post of chancellor for the bloc, but about the possibility of somehow getting involved in the creation of the ruling coalition in the near future.

However, Söder may not be nominated. Undoubtedly, he has established himself well as the head of Bavaria, especially in the fight against the pandemic. But CSU has firmly established itself as a party whose members do not particularly care about the separation of politics and personal business, and not always legitimate. And in the context of the outbreak of a corruption scandal in the parliamentary faction of the CDU / CSU, due to which the ratings of the ruling bloc fell sharply, the candidate from the CSU is not the best solution. Seven out of ten Germans believe that the CSU has a common problem with the dubious side activities of its MPs.


One problem for the two

For the Greens, which since 1993 have been a united bloc with Alliance 90, the success that accompanied them in March is very important. After all, it significantly increases their chances not only to enter the federal government following the results of the September elections, but, possibly, to propose their own candidate for the post of the chancellor. They have long been, since 2019, considered the second most important political force in Germany. And if the CDU / CSU bloc does not cope with the existing problems, then the Greens may well take precedence.

The Greens have enough experience in public administration. In 1998-2005, they already ruled the country in coalition with SPD. Since 2011, the prime minister of Baden-Württemberg has been a Green. Since 2016, the representatives of the party has been in leading governmental positions in Rhineland-Palatinate as well, albeit in a coalition with the Social Democrats and liberals from the Free Democratic Party (FDP).

In principle, only two real scenarios for the development of events after the elections to the federal parliament are recognized in Germany: either a coalition of CDU / CSU and the Greens, or a grand coalition, or the so-called traffic light coalition, including the Greens, SPD (red) and FDP (yellow).

But the Greens have one problem, a problem that they share with the current ‘orphaned’ Christian Democrats. Neither of their two co-chairs, Annalena Baerbock or Robert Habeck, is popular enough in the German society.


I am the next chancellor

Social Democrats hope that Olaf Scholz, the current vice-chancellor and finance minister of Germany, can become "Angela Merkel's best successor" as a chancellor nominee, thanks to his many years of experience as a statesman.

Scholz usually starts his speeches like this: "I am the next chancellor of Germany." He counts very much on the support of the people of Hamburg. After seven years as mayor of this city, he significantly increased the construction of social housing, which was in sharp contrast to other federal states.

While other rivals are busy with personnel squabbles, Scholz has actively started campaigning since the beginning of the year. Almost everyday he announces through social networks about new social benefits, an increase in basic pensions, and so on. Although, there are many complaints about him as a minister of finance, including for delays in the payment of material backup for the companies.

When compared with possible candidates from other parties, Olaf Scholz is still in the losing position. According to polls, Germans are more likely to support Markus Söder, Armin Laschet or Robert Habek as Angela Merkel's successor than him. Only 20% of all eligible voters in the country share Scholz's optimism as a candidate for the chancellor's role. Even among SPD supporters, only 54% believe in him.


Lame duck

Back in 2018, when Volker Kauder, who led the CDU / CSU parliamentary faction for almost 13 years, was not re-elected, it became clear that the time of Merkel's sole leadership was coming to an end. Unable to promote her candidate, Angela Merkel became a lame duck in her own party, writes Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Some German journalists have dubbed the absence of as bright a leader as Merkel in the party, who could retain the leading role for CDU in the country, as well as the current corruption scandals dragging down the party's ratings, duck tales.

Merkel's credibility among the people is still high, which allows the CDU / CSU coalition to stay afloat for now. People don't seem to realize that the Merkel era is coming to an end. But that will change immediately as soon as a new party candidate is announced for the post of the chancellor.  54% of Germans believe that the end of Merkel's rule will be the end of the CDU / CSU bloc.

Perhaps the results of the elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate showed the current sympathies and antipathies of the people towards the existing political parties. But they still do not answer the question who will rule the country and how strong the position of the new leader will be.