CSU could help or hinder Irish bank debt pitch

Tue, Jan 8, 2013, 00:00

The one predictable thing about politician Horst Seehofer and his Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) is a love of the unpredictable.

The party leader who receives Taoiseach Enda Kenny today in the CSU’s alpine retreat of Wildbad Kreuth likes to shift gears and policies regularly – to maintain his regional party’s profile in the national political debate and to keep German chancellor Angela Merkel, ostensibly his conservative ally, on her toes in Berlin.

This morning, he is likely to praise Ireland’s reform efforts and hold up its European referendum tradition as a model for Germany. But the Taoiseach has come to explain Ireland’s hopes for a deal on nationalised bank debt.

With Dr Merkel holding out, Mr Seehofer may stick to his new year’s resolution to cease throwing political spanners into the works of the Berlin coalition and, in this crucial election year, to be “more purring kitten than roaring lion”.

Capricious colleagues

Dr Merkel and her ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) know not to heed such promises from their capricious CSU colleagues. Their Bavarian confidence is shot through with a provincial inferiority complex, meaning they are forever changing their minds – most lately on European affairs. While the CSU insists it is a pro-European party, it renegotiates the terms on a regular basis.

In recent months CSU officials have demanded Greece exit the euro and attacked president of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi as Europe’s “counterfeiter-in-chief”. The party has since softened these lines and, depending who you ask, is either for or against the ESM bailout fund.

CSU politicians backed the ESM in the Bundestag despite the challenge by CSU MP Peter Gauweiler to it and every other major European endeavour to date in Germany’s constitutional court.

Having it both ways – one way in Berlin and the other in Bavaria – is a hallmark of the CSU’s six-decade rule in the prosperous southern state.

But that is now under threat from Bavaria’s Freie Wähler (Free Voters).

Critical take

In the 2008 Bavarian state election, the party became the third largest grouping in the Munich state parliament. It plans to go national, too, running in Germany’s federal elections in September with a critical take on the EU and Berlin’s role in the euro zone crisis strategy.

With the CSU inextricably linked to that strategy, the alarmed Bavarians will today discuss a paper warning of “increasing alienation” of voters from the EU thanks to Brussels “regulation overkill” and a lack of democratic control.

The CSU wants the German constitution changed to allow for referendums along Irish lines on “all fundamental questions of European integration” including treaty change and competence transfer.

Ireland’s referendum tradition, Mr Seehofer said last year, shows that voters can be trusted with responsibility for the European project.

If so inclined, Mr Seehofer could make positive noises this morning on Ireland’s bank debt, then change his mind if it serves his domestic purposes. Purr today, roar tomorrow: Mr Kenny has an interesting day ahead with Dr Merkel’s Bavarian frenemies.