Costs be elected leader German Christian Democrats, Armin Laschet faces the arduous task of uniting a party deeply divided between its own supporters and those of its defeated rival, the Conservative Friedrich merz.
The result of Saturday’s election – 53% for Mr Laschet and 47% for Mr Merz – showed that the party was almost evenly divided between those who want to continue Angela Merkel’s moderate policies under Mr Laschet and those who are in favor of taking the CDU. in a more conservative direction.
“The divide within the party is deep and Laschet will have his work cut out for him to convince Merz supporters,” Katja Leikert, deputy leader of the CDU parliamentary group, told the Financial Times. “Many members feel offended and it will be very difficult to motivate them.”
The divisions could prove dangerous for the party ahead of the regional elections in March and the Bundestag elections in September. The CDU is Germany’s most popular party, but most pollsters attribute its success to Mrs Merkel, who will step down for election after 16 years as Chancellor.
Mr Laschet was elected on Saturday by a majority of 1,001 delegates at the CDU’s digital party conference – mostly civil servants, MPs, mayors and other elected officials who tend to play it safe and prefer continuity over radical change.
But “if it was a vote of the members of the CDU [rather than delegates], Merz would have won, ”Christian von Stetten, CDU MP and Merz supporter, told FT. “There is definitely a majority in the party for Merz and what he stands for.”
Mr von Stetten is part of a large group of CDU MPs who dislike the way Merkel has brought the party to the center of German politics, and yearn for a return to clearer conservative values. Mr Merz, a millionaire corporate lawyer and former leader of the CDU parliamentary group, was their man.
Mr von Stetten said dozens of people, distraught by Mr Merz’s defeat, were leaving the CDU in protest. “These are people who mentally gave up on partying a long time ago, but have always placed high hopes on Merz,” he said. “But he lost and now they have given up.”
The atmosphere is clearly feverish. MPs described people in their constituencies “going wild on social media” by criticizing leaders.
“They say the delegates ignored grassroots views, which were overwhelmingly pro-Merz,” said a Christian Democrat MP. “They feel cheated.”
Some observers fear that the history of the CDU will repeat itself. In 2018, Ms Merkel resigned as leader and in the ensuing competition, at a party conference in Hamburg, her preferred successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, narrowly defeated Mr Merz. But in the months that followed, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer found that her authority was constantly undermined by party conservatives and just over a year later she resigned.
“We saw how divided the CDU was in Hamburg, and we’ve seen it again now – the different trends are still going strong,” said Thorsten Faas, political scientist at the Free University of Berlin. “And we’ve seen over the past two years the problems the party has found itself in because of that.
“We must not make the same mistake we made two years ago,” said CDU MP Olav Gutting. “We must all act together and unite behind Laschet.
On the other hand, supporters of Mr Merz have said that Mr Laschet needs to make them an offer quickly – for example by signaling loud and clear that he intends to depart from Ms centrist platform. Merkel.
“This means that he will have to win against the policies of Angela Merkel’s big coalitions,” von Stetten said. “If he can’t, then he will fail, just like Kramp-Karrenbauer failed.
Yet those who hoped Mr Merz would be able to play a major role in German politics, despite his electoral defeat, were disappointed this weekend. Mr Merz told Mr Laschet he wanted to head Germany’s economy ministry: Ms Merkel and Mr Laschet said there would be no cabinet reshuffle.
Meanwhile, some have said that talk of a CDU split is overkill. Serap Güler, ally of Mr Laschet and secretary of state in his regional government, told the FT that there were “in fact no big differences between Laschet and Merz”.
“Some people just liked Merz because he was sharper,” she says. “It wasn’t really a policy vote.”