Correspondent in Berlin
Friedrich Merz, who is sure to be elected president of the German Christian Democratic Union today (CDU), at the congress that celebrates the party in digital format, had organized a dinner in Berlin for tonight with all its predecessors, the living presidents of the political formation. Wolfgang Schäuble and Armin Laschet had agreed to the photo, a symbol of reconciliation and closing ranks, but Merkel has declined the invitation due to ‘scheduling problems’ and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer claiming a ‘private matter’.
For them it was not exactly a unit photo but it contained a component of revenge that they did not want to lend themselves to. It is the image that Friedrich Merz has been pursuing for twenty years, for which he has left and returned to politics several times and that marks the beginning of a new era in the party, in which he intends to make up for it.
In the background, never accepted the defeat inflicted by Angela Merkel, that in 2002 he claimed for himself the presidency of the CDU parliamentary group, the platform on which to prepare the electoral candidacy, and got away with it after an internal battle in which both used all the political resources at their disposal. He has recently admitted that he completely underestimated Merkel and now seems willing to erase any trace of the former German chancellor in the party.
In addition to the enthronement of Friedrich Merz, who has already been voted for by the bases, this congress will almost completely renew the leadership of the party, with a new general secretary and four of the five vice presidents. The last and very hard electoral defeat and the evasion of militants justify this tabula rasa. Merz, 66 years old and outside the apparatus for the last two decades, arrives to mercilessly deal with an, on the other hand, necessary renovation.
The other challenge is the four regional elections in which the CDU is risking its survival this year (Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein, North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony), it needs erase Merkel’s shameful succession process, a fratricidal display that has made a dent in the electorate, and recover bourgeois manners and youth. The average age of its militants is 60.8 years.
The truth is that Merz can already show some trophies. With Markus Söder, President of Bavaria, he has achieved a kind of truce and the new management team has been assembled without great hindrance or indiscretion, a team that not only makes his old colleagues in the CDU Economic Council happy, but also extensively covers the reality of the game and represents a generational change, with an average age of 40 years. He has a pending subject, which will be examined in April. That month the mandate of the leader of the parliamentary group, Ralph Brinkhaus, expires and Merz wants to claim the key position, as Merkel did in his day. If this struggle leads to a new fight in the mud, the new CDU will have lasted a few months.
Merz will use the congress, moreover, to spur on the structure. In his opinion, the CDU must quickly assume the role of opposition and find a new self-confidence. “First it was the shock phase, now we are in the adjustment phase,” he sums up the moment, “I hope that after the congress, the start-up phase will continue relatively quickly.” “It is important that the party radiates security and confidence again, that we accept this role and not say ‘the opposition is shit’. No, the opposition is also a mandate from the voters, it is a constitutive part of the democratic system of our country. We have to feel emotionally in opposition, turn the internal lever. And if we do it right, today’s opposition is tomorrow’s government.” It is your approach.
He really wants to entangle and plans to wedge the joints of the ‘traffic light coalition’ that supports Olaf Scholz at the Berlin Chancellery. “My perception is that both the FDP liberals and the Greens have an interest in not depending solely on the Social Democrats (SPD),” he says, “for example, in North Rhine-Westphalia, the FDP has expressly declared its willingness to continue governing with the CDU.
Go to Congress with your homework done and the relationship with the Bavarian Social Christians of the restored CSU. “We are simply restoring the code of good manners and cooperation, renewing a complementary relationship between us ideal to exploit the voting potential of both parties,” he describes, “something like 2021 should not be repeated and will not be repeated under my leadership of the CDU ». Merz and Söder have agreed that party leaders, general secretaries and parliamentary group leaders will coordinate closely. Joint meetings of the executive committee will return and personnel decisions will be made jointly with ‘factual’ criteria. “And later, when the time comes, we will decide on the electoral candidacy.” Thus, for now, he avoids the confrontation with Söder. “When the time comes, it doesn’t mean now, but it doesn’t mean three months before the next general elections either,” he says.