German CDU leader struggles to assert authority
Conservatives within party increasing pressure over ‘disastrous’ opinion poll results
CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and chancellor Angela Merkel. Photograph: Felipe Trueba/EPA
In a week of dramatic weather in Germany – 32-degree heat, tropical rainstorms and golf ball-sized hailstones – Berlin’s ruling coalition has drifted into a full-scale summer storm of its own.
Fewer than one in five German voters – 18 per cent – are happy with the fourth administration of chancellor Angela Merkel, according to a new poll for the Bild tabloid.
Some 59 per cent are unhappy with the grand coalition’s work and, though it is just 15 months in office, one in two expect nothing more from this government.
After punishing European election results for Germany’s traditional political giants, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD) are shedding support weekly and sailing towards disaster in autumn state elections in eastern Germany.
Further election drubbings there will undermine even more the ruling parties’ ambition to keep their coalition boat afloat until the next scheduled federal election in 2021.
The centre-left SPD is leaderless after the resignation of its sixth leader in a decade, with no takers as yet for the top job. Meanwhile the CDU’s new leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, known to all as AKK, faces questions about her authority to succeed Angela Merkel in the chancellery.
Merkel handed over the CDU leadership in December but remains head of government. That job share is fuelling speculation over who the party will run to succeed Merkel, turning the so-called “chancellor question” into the AKK question.
Behind this topic, political analysts see growing insecurity among rank-and-file over what kind of party, after 14 years in power, the CDU wants to be. Voter support is draining away and the CDU has slipped into second place in polls, nearly three points behind the Green Party, for the first time ever.
That in turn is linked to Kramp-Karrenbauer’s efforts to assert herself politically with neither the keys to the chancellery nor a seat at cabinet. “But the worst thing she could do in her situation would be to start sawing at Merkel’s chair,” said Prof Heinrich Oberreuter, a political scientist, on German radio.
As her dilemma grows, conservatives within the CDU, hostile towards their leader, are increasing pressure over “disastrous opinion poll results”.
“We are demanding the election of a chancellor candidate by membership vote,” said Alexander Mitsch of a growing conservative CDU grouping, “and we will soon start an initiative to implement this.”
With pressure building, and with little notice, the CDU’s Bundestag’s floor leader Ralf Brinkhaus announced from nowhere that “Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will be our next chancellor candidate”.
Instead of calming the waters, his intervention has roiled things further, forcing a full cast of senior CDU figures to emerge on Wednesday to insist that it was premature to discuss Merkel’s would-be chancellery successor. “We have to switch off the panic mode and personnel debates,” said Tobias Hans, successor to the CDU leader as state premier of Saarland.
While the CDU tug-of-war continues in Berlin, new political options are opening elsewhere in Germany.
Politicians in the northern port city-state of Bremen have begun coalition talks with a view to forming a three-way centre-left coalition between the SPD, the Greens and the Left Party. If coalition talks end in a government, it would be the first time the Left Party, successor to East Germany’s communist party, takes power in a western German state.
Many among Germany’s left have welcomed the alliance as a real option to unseat the CDU at federal level in Berlin. Among them is Oskar Lafontaine, the ex-SPD leader and later federal finance minister who walked out of government – and, later, his party – to co-found the Left Party.
The 75-year-old suggested the time has come for the SPD to suppress its allergy towards co-operating with the Left Party at federal level. “This is about a political majority in the Bundestag for higher wages and pensions, better social conditions, a pacifist foreign policy,and environmental policy that doesn’t limit itself to cosmetic corrections,” he said.
On Wednesday senior SPD officials showed nothing had changed in their antipathy to the Left Party, dismissing Lafontaine’s offer as a “belated April Fool’s joke” – for now, at least.