We repeatedly warned you about believing people who said Merkel was finished, but on the 30th of September, it was time to sound the alarm:
However, the interesting bit is precisely that the challenge came from the perfectly normal, EU-and-NATO Christian Democrats of northern and western Germany, Angela Merkel’s bedrock support. Had it come from ultra-conservatism, Saxony, or Bavaria, you would expect this classical CDU to rally round Merkel, just as it did unanimously against Horst Seehofer back in June. This time, the call is coming from inside the Ludwig-Erhard Haus. This is a bigger threat and one different in kind.
It was, and the point that the Hessen state elections might be more significant than the Bavarian ones also stands up rather well. On the other hand, my Twitter summary of Hessen’s election night was that the river came up to the top of the dyke, but no further. As in Bavaria, the Greens surged, the AFD hit their mark from the general, and both the SPD and CDU suffered. As in Bavaria, it wasn’t quite enough to flip the statehouse, and in fact it wasn’t even enough to change the coalition.
Unless, of course, it was. Incredibly, the state of Hessen didn’t manage to organise a proper election within its own capital. Not only are they having a recount, but urgent talks are going on between the parties in case it becomes possible to put together a traffic-light coalition of Social Democrats, Greens, and Liberals.
You might wonder if the CDU had a good idea from canvassing data or exit polling that Hessen was going wrong, but on the other hand, this Der Spiegel story says that Angela Merkel consulted with her old political buddy Annette Schavan as far back as the summer about quitting after the Hessen elections.
At the end of the day, though, even if the river didn’t quite get over the dyke, the key issue is that the core CDU vote is eroding and it’s doing it across the centre. The polling data is clear – the most recent poll puts the Greens only three points behind the combined CDU/CSU. As we pointed out here, the effect is worse for the CDU as such ex the CSU. My rough estimate is that the Greens are gaining half a million votes a poll, which puts a potential crossover weeks away.
So it’s absolutely no surprise she pressed the button to initiate an orderly succession.
The bells are ringing in the CSU, too – here’s the federal minister responsible for international aid calling for Horst Seehofer to resign and specifically demanding a turn to the centre. Müller says that the CSU has become obsessed with refugees and law-and-order and needs to remember it has a broader mission, notably the protection of God’s creation, the fight against hunger, and the question of social justice in Germany and the world. (I told you the Greens manage to speak to the churches; here’s an example of the opposite.) Seehofer himself is unwisely congratulating himself on not being in Merkel’s cemetery of men; there’s plenty of time for that.
The party rules require a special congress to be held on the 7th of December in Hamburg. Before then, they have agreed to stage a succession of regional conferences, to which all members are invited. Big halls are suddenly in demand. Deutsche Welle has English-language profiles of the candidates here, but they have already sorted themselves into the following three:
Friedrich Merz. This is the guy Merkel beat to get the party leadership. That’s his best selling point but also his worst; he’s been out of politics for more than a decade. The audience he wants is the business world, and what he will offer them is a tax gimme. Back in the day he was famous for wanting to get the tax code on a beermat, but who now believes in that early 2ks/late 90s shiny stuff?
Also, his business career isn’t necessarily an asset. The Marxist blog Nachdenkseiten offers a profile of it that’s savagely hostile but not inaccurate; they share much of their critique with the German finance ministry, which sent policemen to search his employer BlackRock’s offices this week for evidence of tax evasion. It’s really not what you want in the middle of a campaign.
He’s widely seen as Wolfgang Schäuble’s candidate (see here) but Schäuble denies this, offering praise for all the candidates and saying very clearly that there’s no going back on the Merkel era’s changes.
Jens Spahn. The current federal health minister, he speaks to the desire to swing to the populist right and win back the AFD voters, in so far as they ever voted CDU. In case anyone wanted a new Pim Fortuyn, he’s gay and he really hates refugees and people who speak English, yes, really. His biggest problem is simple: nobody actually wants him to be party leader and still less chancellor, on 9 per cent in the polls.
Annegret Krampf-Karrenbauer. Would it astonish anyone that Angela Merkel planned carefully for the succession? Having been picked out herself by Helmut Kohl, she picked out a succession of successors. As in all the best successions, though, they failed to live up to her standards or indeed anyone else’s.
First there was Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the aristocratic defence minister disgraced as a plagiarist. Then she turned to a woman, education and research minister, personal friend, and CDU apparatchik Annette Schavan. She also turned out to be an academic fraud, despite a huge and deeply embarrassing effort by the chancellor and a range of academic establishment figures to make it not happen. Merkel lined up her new defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, who is still there despite being yet another plagiarist. Tellingly, she isn’t a candidate.
At the fourth attempt, Merkel eventually picked out the Saarland minister-president, dipped her in a ministry, and sent her to be the CDU general secretary. AKK is the blindingly obvious candidate of continuity and that rare bird, a CDU leader from a working-class background. She is either slightly more popular than Merz or in a tie with him, and in any case much more popular than Spahn. And she is considerably more popular with Germans than the party. She also opened the door to Merz, either as a minister or to head a major project.
There is just the faintest crack of light for another candidate, as the Süddeutsche Zeitung points out. Anyone who wants to take part in the regional congresses has to be put forward by a local CDU branch or one of its national, vertical organizations. But this doesn’t hold for the final, decisive congress. Any delegate on the day in Hamburg can nominate any other delegate or indeed any party member, so the possibility of a coup de theatre exists up to the whistle.