The speech in front of the delegates, their murmurs, laughter, groans, raving and, ultimately, the extent of the applause as a measure of success. All of that is missing this time. Instead, Armin Laschet, Friedrich Merz and Norbert Röttgen appear on Saturday in the almost empty Messe Berlin. Very few people are on site when the three candidates for the chairmanship of the CDU are campaigning for the votes of the 1,001 delegates. The y follow what is happening in the home office.
The corona pandemic means that the 33rd party congress of the German Christian Democrats has become the first to be digitally handled. Party law in the Federal Republic of Germany is not designed for this, and so the officials have to vote twice. Whoever leads the CDU in the future will be processed digitally, as will the votes for the members of the Presidium and Federal Executive. Because the results are not legally covered, an analog postal vote has to be postponed. Strictly speaking, only after these votes have been counted on January 22nd will it be clear who will lead the CDU in the future.
A test run before the premiere
In order to get to know the new voting procedure better, the party played a digital test run at the beginning of the week. More than 800 delegates took part. The campaign for the votes of the delegates also works differently this time, the appointments with associations and regional associations are digital or delegates are called. The digital coordination in a presidential run-off election promises excitement in particular, to which the votes of the eliminated candidate will then go. In any case, the usual images of delegates’ grapes that coordinate with each other are omitted.
During the test run, votes could not be given in advance, a forecast is difficult anyway due to the changed circumstances. In a recently published survey for ARD, Merz was ahead with 29 percent, Laschet and Röttgen were on par with 25 percent. However, CDU supporters were questioned – which can differ significantly from the vote of the delegates.
Among the associations of the CDU, the Junge Union (JU) decided in favor of Friedrich Merz at an early stage – as it did with his unsuccessful entry in 2018. In a member survey, he came to more than 50 percent. If Merz fails, JU boss Tilman Kuban does not favor Röttgen or Laschet as chancellor candidates, instead he brings Jens Spahn into play. The Minister of Health made a name for himself in the refugee crisis as an opponent to Angela Merkel, which connects him with Merz. Those who want to shake off the legacy of the long-term Chancellor as much as possible rely on Merz as well as the representatives of companies and business liberals. Among other things, the SME and Economic Union is calling for a moratorium on social benefits in Germany and a no to the mutualisation of debts in the EU.
Archconservative promotes Merkelian Laschet
Conversely, the keepers of the Merkel era say: everyone, just not Merz. “We now need strong cohesion so that the CDU remains the leading party in the middle of society,” said Annette Widmann-Mauz, chairwoman of the women’s union, to the “Spiegel”. Its board does not commit to one person, but favors Laschet and Röttgen. This is how one of Merkel’s closest confidants, her head of the Chancellery, Helge Braun, handles it. He points to necessary government experience – which Merz is the only candidate not to have.
It was Merkel herself who dismissed Norbert Röttgen as Federal Environment Minister in 2012 because he had previously led the CDU into a debacle as the top candidate in the state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia. The n he looked for a new field of activity and found it as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag. In the race for chairmanship, Röttgen is returning to environmental policy and is surprisingly entrepreneur-friendly. But he also advertises the votes of the women, often deterred by Merz, and positions himself in the middle of the three candidates.
Because Laschet does not show any withdrawal movements from Merkel. Such a late swing would not be credible either. Initially traded as the clear favorite for the party chairmanship – also because he secured Spahn’s support – Laschet’s reputation has suffered from his corona sluggish course. Most recently, however, he landed a surprise success: Ex-Prime Minister Kurt Biedenkopf spoke out in favor of Laschet. Biedenkopf ruled Saxony for twelve years – a particularly conservative state association from which Merz hopes to gain many votes.