‘Implosion’: CDU plays blame game after German election disaster

Centre-right party begins search for third leader in three years

Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is racing to avoid a political death-spiral after last month's election disaster by starting a hunt for its third leader in three years.

The centre-right party has announced plans to re-elect its entire steering committee and front bench by year-end after luckless chairman Armin Laschet, who has been in the job only since January, signalled he would stand down after the party's worst-ever federal election result.

"There is a need to legitimise everything and all leading positions will be up for disposition at the [upcoming] federal party conference," said Paul Ziemiak, the exhausted-looking CDU general secretary.

While its rivals hurry ahead with coalition talks, though, the CDU’s search for a new beginning ahead of a December party conference is already bogged down in technicalities and ill-concealed ambition.


Among the first departures from the party’s executive committee is outgoing defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was herself elected CDU leader to huge cheers in December 2018. She struggled to make a mark, though, and announced plans to stand down in February 2020.

It was a long goodbye: the pandemic – combined with the CDU’s digital backwardness – made the process to find a successor almost as long as her official term as leader.

Kramp-Karrenbauer will hand back her Bundestag mandate as will Peter Altmaier, outgoing economics minister and Merkel confidante.

But the most significant departure from the CDU inner circle is Wolfgang Schäuble, an MP for 49 years for his Black Forest constituency.

He was the outgoing president of the last Bundestag but the 79-year-old loses that role now that the SPD is the largest grouping. That in turn strips him of his automatic seat on the CDU executive committee.

Ending his career as it began – as a backbencher – Schäuble was the first to pin the CDU's election disaster on Angela Merkel, for staying on as chancellor when she stood down as party leader in 2018.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, Laschet and others have rushed to join in the Merkel-bashing, saying their struggle to perform was down to the limited room to manoeuvre left by having Merkel still in office.


One seasoned CDU official, asked to describe the current internal mood in a word, said “implosion”. Amid calls for unity, there is huge disagreement between the party’s centrist and conservative camps over whether the next leader should be chosen by all party members or hand-picked delegates.

Seasoned political analysts are already drawing parallels to the party's existential struggles after the departure of two towering leaders, Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl.

Merkel was CDU head for 18 years, modernising the party’s policies to drag it into the political centre. Merkel loyalists in the CDU have dismissed Schäuble-led attacks. They say her personal popularity – she leaves office with an 80 per cent positive rating – eclipsed any need, or appetite, among CDU officials to redevelop their policies, messaging or goals for the inevitable post-Merkel era.

Matters are now so serious that some see a split looming within the CDU while others see cracks growing in the so-called Union – the parliamentary voting bloc of CDU with its Bavarian-only sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

Its leader Markus Söder has placed sole blame for the election disaster at the CDU’s door, citing its “wrong candidate, wrong strategy, wrong programme”.

Söder's insistence from Munich that all would have been well had he been allowed run instead has been dismissed in Berlin, pointing to the CSU's own record seven-point slide in Bavaria. With no leader and no political narrative in sight, the crisis in Germany's centre-right is broad and deep.