On Saturday, 1,001 delegates of the Christian Democratic Union will elect their new leader. This will decide whether Germany’s largest political party will continue on the course that Angela Merkel charted in her country and in the European Union in her 16 years as chancellor, or whether it will attempt a swing to the right and toward a more “Germany First” relationship with the rest of the EU. It is possible (but not certain) that the new leader will be a candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor when her term ends in September’s national elections.
Given Germany’s dominant role in the EU, the CDU’s electors will most likely affect the course of Europe and, consequently, every member-state.
Three men are running for the party’s leadership. The latest polls show a slim lead for Friedrich Merz, a former CDU senior member who left politics in 2009 and returned in 2018 after having made millions in business. The tough business-talking Merz proposes reforms “for the renewal of Germany and the EU.”
Just behind him (both with 25 percent to Merz’s 29 percent), are Armin Laschet, prime minister of North Rhine-Westfalia, the most populous state, and Norbert Rottgen, head of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee. Whereas Merz might be a divisive figure in the EU, the other two candidates are expected to continue Merkel’s policies. However, a poll among 517 leaders in business, politics and administration published on Thursday by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung found that most of the members of the economic elite believe that Markus Söder, leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU, would be the strongest candidate against the Social Democratic Party’s candidate for chancellor, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz.
The CDU will decide on its candidate in spring. By then, it is likely that Health Minister Jens Spahn will have thrown his hat into the ring. Both Söder and Spahn are considered ambitious and pragmatic and not likely to rock the EU boat.
Whoever is elected CDU leader will play a decisive role in Europe, irrespective of whether he or another party member succeeds Merkel. In other words, the CDU’s 1,001 delegates decide not only for their own party and country, but for us as well.
This is one of the paradoxes of a Union of democracies: Sometimes votes that will change the EU’s course can be determined by very few people. This applies to referendums and to elections, both national ones and for the leadership of political parties.