The German Conservatives sink in the polls after the fight between partners | International

Armin Laschet, president of the CDU, during a press conference at the party's headquarters on April 26.
Armin Laschet, president of the CDU, during a press conference at the party’s headquarters on April 26.ANNEGRET HILSE / AFP

Germans are not used to the spectacle of the Conservatives when, for more than a week, the leader of Angela Merkel’s formation, Armin Laschet, and that of her Bavarian sister party, Markus Söder, fought in public to be the common candidate for the elections next September, to which the chancellor no longer appears after 16 years in power. While they aired their differences, the Greens resolved the issue quickly and without scandal, indoors. The new candidate, Annalena Baerbock, a 40-year-old lawyer, was introduced by the other contender, Robert Habeck, with words of admiration. The party was united behind the 40-year-old lawyer. The contrast was devastating for the conservatives. The day after Baerbock’s election and just hours after Laschet beat Söder, a first Forsa poll for RTL gave them the first slap: the overtaking from the Greens, with 28% intention to vote, to the Conservatives, with 21%.

DER SPIEGEL 16/2021 / The Fratricidal War COVER

The battle for Merkel’s succession bleeds German conservatives

But it is not the only problem for the Union, as the alliance formed by Merkel’s CDU and the Bavarian CSU is known. The struggle between the leaders has not only left open wounds between both formations, but also within the CDU. During the eternal week of tug of war, lower-level deputies, but also respected regional barons of the party, were in favor of running for Söder. The big question now is how Laschet will manage to calm the waters with the Bavarian partner and regain the trust and support of those who turned their backs on him during the battle. There are only five months left until the elections that will shape the future of post-Merkel Germany. And as the polls are, anything could happen, even that the conservatives, who have ruled the country for the most part since the end of the Second World War (more than 50 years in total in the Government) are left out of the Executive.

Last week an Insa poll for the newspaper picture It showed that the CSU attending alone would obtain more than double the votes than the CDU despite the fact that the first one is only established in Bavaria. A striking result that has once again given wings to theories about the rupture between the conservative partners. The experts consulted dismissed it outright and downplayed the survey, which is only published after crises, not periodically. “It always happens when the two parties fight, but it is completely unreal. From a purely pragmatic point of view, it would not suit either of them, ”says Franco delle Donne, PhD in Political Communication from the Free University of Berlin. The CDU would have to create a structure from scratch in Bavaria, the second most populous state. And the CSU would lose the weight that it has managed to secure in the conservative governments, where historically it has placed two, three and even four ministers – some of great weight, as currently Horst Seehofer in the Interior – more than what would correspond to it due to its territorial weight , Explain.

Unify the party

With his challenge, “Söder has shown the strength of the CSU and has emphasized his personal ambitions, but both parties are perfectly aware that they can only win the September elections if they stay together,” agrees Uwe Jun, Professor of Political Science at the University of Trier. For this expert in federal politics, the challenge for Laschet will be to unify his own party and mobilize its members during the campaign. The president of the CDU has emerged victorious from the duel with Söder but has been weakened. This week he surprised his party moderates by announcing that he was adding Friedrich Merz to his campaign team. Merz has been a sort of nemesis for Merkel, whom she has criticized countless times for placing the party at the center and deviating from “its essences” conservative and liberal. So far Merz has lost all the power struggles it has embarked on. He lost when he faced Merkel a decade ago and crashed again when, this January, he wanted to be president of the CDU. The party elected Laschet, the continuation of the Chancellor’s policies.

But Merz represents a strong current within the CDU, which supports everything other than Merkel, recalls Delle Donne. And Laschet, who promised in January to reconcile the different positions within the party, knows this. The lawyer, who got rich working for the fund manager BlackRock in his years away from politics, is Laschet’s trump card in winning over the eastern states. In the fight for the candidacy the barons of the East and their bases supported Söder, of a much more conservative profile. They are the ones demanding the strongest hand in refugee and immigration policy, largely in response to the fact that these regions of the former GDR are where the CDU has the greatest competition to the right: there Alternative for Germany (AfD) he got between 18 and 27% of the votes in the last federal elections. In this context, Laschet may have another problem following the election of Hans-Georg Maaßen as representative of South Thuringia to the Bundestag. The controversial former head of the German internal secret services was fired in 2018 for minimizing xenophobic attacks and is accused of collusion with the far right. The Greens and the SPD criticized his nomination and asked Laschet to clarify whether the party is moving away from the political center. It is one thing to accommodate the liberal trend of Merz and another to let the CDU approach the AfD, a formation subject to a strict sanitary cordon by the rest of the parties.

The last regionals before September

The conservatives are at stake in the next regional elections, the last before the general elections in September. On June 6, the regional Parliament of Saxony-Anhalt, a state of the East, with only 2.2 million inhabitants, but very relevant because the extreme right of Alternative for Germany (AfD) obtained 24.2% of the votes. in the last elections, very close to 29.8% of the CDU. The sanitary cordon against the AfD prevented them from entering the government, currently headed by Reiner Haseloff, of the CDU, in coalition with the Social Democrats and the Greens. Retaining that place is vital for the Conservatives and for their leader, Armin Laschet, who needs good results to improve his prospects. “A defeat would leave the CDU in a very bad situation in the face of the fight for the Chancellery,” says political scientist Uwe Jun.