Historical Congress of the CDU: Election of the Party’s new head. Women’s dominance in the party
A deep political crisis of Merkel’s government has been observed after the migration of almost a million refugees from the Middle East. The government was on the verge of a split. The CDU’s migration policy became the main reason for disagreement. Therefore, even the CDU’s closest coalition partner the CSU started to criticize Angela Merkel’s migration policy.
The new parliamentary elections were held on September 24. Despite the fact that Germany’s leading party the CDU had received more votes than other parties, it had not been able to create a new government for a long time. The attempt to establish a new government in a so-called "Jamaica coalition" with the FDP, the CSU, and the Green Party failed after the parties’ first discussion meeting. Even though the coalition with the SPD is going on, there are still some fundamental disagreements between the two traditional parties of the country (Spiegel.de, February 26, 2018).
In March 2018, Angela Merkel was appointed Chancellor of Germany by the German Bundestag for the fourth time. However, given the permanently growing popularity of the AFD, which is a radical right-wing populist party in Germany and the lost elections in Bayern and Hessen in September 2018, Angela Merkel has declared that she will not apply for the CDU head in the upcoming XXXI party congress. Merkel has been leading her party for 18 years. Moreover, she has stressed that she is not going to run for the parliamentary elections in 2021 and will leave active politics by the end of her chancellorship (Zeit.de, December 19, 2018).
There are numerous speculations on Merkel’s radical decision. It is believed that there were two issues that caused Merkel’s relatively unexpected choice. Firstly, through her official announcement to not nominate for the CDU head in her party’s next congress and to leave politics in 2021, after her last chancellorship, Merkel has attempted to avoid a very fast rising popularity of the right-wing in Germany. Secondly, there were undoubtedly certain complaints about Merkel and her policy within her party. Merkel’s very disputable migration policy, in particular, has made her last chancellorship very troublesome for Angela Merkel and the CDU in general. Therefore, Merkel has attempted to counteract the decline in her party’s poll numbers and stimulate the start of a new era in the party.
XXXI Congress of the CDU
As a rule, the delegations come to the agreement on the candidacy of one person. Hence, the CDU had never had an election with three very competitive party members rivaling for the position of head of the party. The Congress when Rainer Barzel – the CDU fraction head at that time – and Helmut Kohl – a former prime minister of West Germany – were running for this position within the party remains an exception. In this historical XXXI Congress have participated more accredited journalists as never before. 1001 delegates were deciding on the party’s future. Consequently, the XXXI Congress of the CDU on 7 December became a historical day for Germany’s leading party (Spiegel.de, December 7, 2018).
Merkels' successors – the party’s general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK), CDU’s former head Friedrich Merz, and health minister Jens Spahn – applied for the party’s head position (Spiegel.de, December 7, 2018). It was the first time since 1971 that the CDU delegates got the chance to vote for more than two candidates. All three have expressed their happiness about the start of a new political era of the CDU and emphasized "fair political" competition after almost 20 years of Angela Merkel’s political dominance. Kramp-Karrenbauer said in her speech that the CDU has to have courage instead of looking timidly to the right and left, while Merz stressed that without a clear political position it is not possible to improve election results (Zeit.de, December 7, 2018).
At the end of the very competitive election, AKK was elected new head of the CDU as a successor of Angela Merkel. In the second ballot, she received 517 out of 999 votes, which is almost 52% of all votes, while her main opponent Friedrich Merz got 482 votes, nearly 48%. The third candidate Jens Spahn exited from the election in the first round (Zeit.de, December 7, 2018).
Women’s Dominance within the Party
The power in the party is passed on from one woman to another for the first time in not only the party’s but also Germany’s history. Friedrich Merz’s and Jens Spahn’s attempts to break nearly two decades of female dominance in the conservative party of Germany have not been successful. The change of power has happened in a very interesting way: Angela Merkel has not shown her direct support of AKK – in contrast to her predecessors in the highest party and state offices, for instance, like in the cases of Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl, and Gerhard Schröder. Even in her last speech as head of the CDU, Angela Merkel tried to avoid any phrases in favor of her favorite candidate-AKK. Merkel had the intention to do not damage AKK’s high chances for the new head of the party. In contrast to Angela Merkel’s relatively neutral position, the President of the German Parliament Wolfgang Schäuble – another very powerful and veteran politician of the CDU has shown his direct support of Friedrich Merz (Zeit.de, December 8, 2018), AKK’s main opponent for the CDU head post.
Friedrich Merz’s and AKK’s Cooperation?
After his defeat against AKK, Merz asked his followers to support her in her future activity. According to him, he would have won the elections and, that he enjoyed the competition with AKK and Spahn despite the defeat against his main competitor. In her turn, AKK thanked Merz for his statement to work together for the party’s good and asked him and Spahn for a common appearance on stage (Spiegel.de, December 7, 2018).
AKK has announced that she wants to cooperate with Merz. According to AKK, it is important to consider which position within the party would be suitable for him in the future. A possible political position for Merz as a secretary in the party would not be attractive for him, because as a very successful person in the economy, he will always have a better perspective in this field. Acquiring Merz’s supporter’s sympathy is somehow a priority for AKK after defeating him. This is not only due to a winner’s magnanimity but also due to the need to unite the party in order to have better chances in her future activity. Moreover, through her move of offering Merz a leading position in the party and collaborating with him, AKK tries to relieve herself of responsibility within the party (Zeit.de, December 14, 2018).
In their recent personal meeting, AKK and Friedrich Merz have agreed on the terms of further cooperation: Merz has accepted a cooperative work offer of the new party head. Still, he wants to continue with his active economic activities according to Zeit newspaper (Zeit.de, December 16, 2018).
Angela Merkel’s Farewell
Merkel's final speech and farewell were very emotional:
“I need no party chairmanship for my attachment with CDU. However, I am still a Federal Chancellor”.
The Chancellor has stressed that the CDU can still achieve better results, despite of the influence of polarization in German society and the AFD. Now it is time "to turn over a new leaf", Merkel said at the end of her speech and added: "it was a big joy for me, it was an honor for me" (Spiegel.de, December 7, 2018). After her final speech, Angela Merkel has received nearly ten minutes of applause of the 1001 delegates (Zeit.de, December 7, 2018).
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