CDU chairmanship struggle showcases German centrist zeitgeist

ANGELOS BERBERAKIS
Istanbul
Published

Historically the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has been one of the most stable parties in post-war German politics. The best example of this is Chancellor Angela Merkel's reign over the CDU, which has persisted since 2000, while other parties, small and large, such as the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have almost constantly changed leaders.

Now, the next chairperson, elected by the party's 1,001 delegates, could potentially become the country's chancellor when Merkel's final term comes to an end in 2021.

The forerunners include Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, who is sometimes referred to as "mini-Merkel" because the public sees her as Merkel's successor, and Friedrich Merz, 63, the politician-turned businessman who has been absent from German politics ever since an internal power struggle in the early 2000s saw him eliminated by Merkel.

Neither candidate has gone into details as to how exactly they would run the party, or what policies they would change, should they win the chairmanship.

Kramp-Karrenbauer for example, who has experienced electoral success in her home state of Saarland, is being showcased in the media as Merkel's successor. While she has been careful to not criticize Merkel in fear of not alienating her base, she has attempted to flirt with the slightly more conservative segment of CDU voters by opening up conversations on immigration, proposing an entry ban on asylum-seekers and immigrants who have been convicted of serious crimes.

She has said, however, that she does not wish to endlessly talk about Merkel's decision to open Europe's gates in 2015. According to her, it would be less interesting to voters, even though it remains a hot-button issue across the country. She has also reaffirmed her opposition to same-sex marriages.

Merz, on the other hand, spent the better part of the last two decades making a fortune by dealing with American businesses. He is currently neck and neck with Kramp-Karrenbauer. He does not propose any radical changes for the party but it seems to be the common theme with both candidates.

His idea for the future of the CDU is turning it once again into a great "Volkspartei" or "People's Party" of the center, which can win back politically disenfranchised citizens who have either stopped voting or turned their support to the Alternative for Germany party (AfD).

Perhaps his greatest strength is his rhetoric. He is a quick, clear and direct speaker who enjoys using casual examples, such as football, to explain more complex political situations; perhaps in an attempt to appeal younger voters.

While definitely not a eurosceptic, Merz quoted Henry Kissinger as saying, "Germany is too small for the world, but too big for Europe," pointing out that rather than attempting to politically dominate the continent through the EU, which has created anti-German animosity in several member states in the south and east, true cooperation is what should actually be pushed for.

"We find ourselves today… in a world that is being remeasured. We are not fooling ourselves, we are witnesses of a truly fundamental change and shift of global power and influence centers," he said.

As the U.S. and China move in to dominate these influence centers, he went on, "many are left wondering what is happening in Europe?" Merz wishes for a cooperative Europe to be part of this ongoing power struggle of the giants.

He is officially supported by Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble while Kramp-Karrenbauer has been endorsed by Economy Minister Peter Altmaier. Merkel herself has shied away from official endorsements.

The next man or woman to lead the CDU could eventually come to take the helm of the entire country and also help steer Europe, making this rather understated power struggle quite remarkable indeed.

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