In September, Angela Merkel will retire from politics, leaving behind the Conservative Party, whose influence in Germany has been almost undeniable for 16 years. Against this background, the nomination of Merkel’s successor to her longtime rival becomes a dubious gratitude from the CDU.
On Friday, January 15th, the Christian Democratic Union will launch a two-day online conference. Then the CDU delegates will have to choose a new leader. The key contender now is the oligarch Friedrich Merz, whose political program is to return Germany to a “Domekel” state.
In 2002, Merkel fired Merz from her position as leader of the CDU parliamentary faction. Then Merkel tried to expand the electoral base of the CDU with her liberal ideas. Merz, in turn, was a zealous advocate of conservative principles. He is remembered by many in Germany for his fiery speeches in favor of German identity. Now Merz is returning to big politics. He became the favorite in the race against Armin Laschet and Norbert Röttgen.
Laschet is the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia. He is very popular in his region and reaches the national level with the tacit approval of the party. Nevertheless, Lashet struggles to prove his ability to work both nationally and internationally. For example, Laschet drew unnecessary attention to himself when, at last year’s security conference in Munich, he demanded to speak German during a debate in English about the future of the EU.
Retgen was a former minister of the environment and now chairs the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs. He started out as an outsider in the current race, but was able, according to polls, to break into second place. In this he was helped by the idea of combining Merkel’s domestic policy with a more active foreign policy.
Retgen’s supporters are confident that by gaining more than a third of the votes in the first round of Saturday’s vote, he will consolidate his lead in the second round. Nevertheless, Merz is still considered the best candidate, although by no means all. In political circles, he is considered a highly controversial figure.
“The CDU, led by Friedrich Merz, would mean the CDU is in opposition”, – an unnamed Bundestag member told The Guardian. “But this is the price that many delegates seem willing to pay to revert to the old CDU format”.
To date, Merz has the weakest campaign program. He spent most of 2020 in the shadows, relying on the “processing” of delegates at informal meetings. Merz promises conservatives a well-defined political stance after Merkel crossed her party’s red lines on nuclear energy, immigration and EU debt sharing.
Merz’s old-fashioned conservatism helped him gain a following not only among experienced party members, but also among young politicians.
“In recent years, we have witnessed political polarization at the edge of the political spectrum”, – said Christoph Ploss, 35-year-old party leader in Hamburg.
“With Merz, this polarization will shift to the center”.
At the same time, skeptics call Merz’s image an illusion. In a sense, he resembles Donald Trump, with the consequences of whose presidency the United States will have to deal with for a very long time. Even Merz’s supporters admit that their favorite’s views are controversial, causing discontent among the CDU’s liberal voters. As a consequence, the party may lose part of the electorate. On the other hand, Merz’s stance on immigration could bring back the conservative voter who has recently supported the Alternative for Germany party.Banana Republic with a nuclear bomb – The Guardian talks about the near future of the United States