Germany’s CDU and the Hope for Better Days to Come

After yet another state election debacle last Sunday in eastern Germany, CDU politician Friedrich Merz has attacked Chancellor Angela Merkel and her lack of leadership. Not only does it violate protocol, but it is also Merz’s latest move as he likely seeks to become his party’s next chancellor candidate. At last.

The latest election result in Thuringia, eastern Germany, can be summed up in two-point: First, the people in the state are seemingly satisfied with Minister-President Ramelow’s work. He remains the Left’s only politicians holding this position. Second, the election was what Friedrich Merz had called a significant “vote of no confidence” against the – still so-called – grand coalition in Berlin.

However, as for many, the latest embarrassment in Thuringia did not come as a surprise to Merz. During several party events across Germany, particularly in the east, he had experienced great displeasure with the CDU and SPD. The crumbling support was, therefore, inevitable.

Now Merz has gone not one but three steps further and has broken with a golden rule within his party: do not criticise the chancellor publicly.

If anyone is cognizant of what Merkel’s doghouse feels like, it is Merz. At the beginning of the century, he used to be one of the most promising figures in the party. However, Merz and Merkel never got along brilliantly. When Merkel took the reins and the chancellorship in 2005, Merz’s prospects nullified, and he would soon after disappears from daily politics.

Last year, when Merkel announced she would not seek another run and would consequently give up the party’s chair, Merz returned. Unfortunately, he lost the race for the chair against Kramp-Karrenbauer. A result, many have begun to regret already.

With Merkel being a lame duck, however, Merz has attempted to reposition himself within the party. Moreover, he has not been shy in calling out Merkel. “We are in a tough situation,” Merz said after the Thuringia elections and continued it was mainly due to “laziness and lack of leadership by the Chancellor” which had “laid over this country like a foggy carpet for years”. It was the main criticism that he perceives at events but also “shared”, before adding that “people ought to expect political leadership and concise statements”. The latter has been one of the major criticisms on Merkel since day one.

Given the circumstances, a continuation of the grand coalition till the end of the legislature period in two years was inconceivable to Merz, he opined on Twitter.

While seemingly utilising the criticising against Merkel, Merz has repeatedly restrained himself from calling out Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK), who remains under heavy pressure – mainly due to her own doings. For many, AKK has been a scapegoat for dismal performances of the once so proud major party. However, Merz realises that AKK has pretty much lost her chances of becoming the next chancellor candidate already and so he utilises rather tamed rhetoric, stating that “the party leader has hardly played a negative role in my observation.” He would stand by his support he promises AKK after she became the chair. However, the symbolism here is obvious: The less AKK is at fault, the more Merkel is solely responsible. A narrative, Merz has mastered to orchestrate.

Merz is a highly successful individual. His professional career does not depend on a parliamentary post. Bringing himself back into the equation leads one to the conclusion that he seeks to obtain the chancellor candidacy. His attacks on Merkel, while raising his profile, can be seen as sweet revenge.

Moreover, while Kramp-Karrenbauer made a mistake by becoming Germany’s Defence Minister, an office that has pretty much detrimental to all its previous holders, Merz decided to stay in the background and conduct commentary on the party’s appearances. It has been a wise decision in a time where the party continues to suffer. And the narrative of the party’s saviour has just begun. It is about time.