quinta-feira, 12 de maio de 2016
The young, gay, conservative German chancellor-in-waiting
The young, gay, conservative German chancellor-in-waiting
Jens Spahn is positioning himself, with no apologies, to take Angela Merkel’s seat.
By JANOSCH DELCKER 5/12/16, 5:33 AM CET
BERLIN — Jens Spahn is a walking contradiction who just might be the answer to Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats’ biggest and mostly unspoken problem: What to do the day that Angela Merkel passes from the scene.
As a young, openly gay man who has built up credibility on serious policy areas such as finance and health, the 35-year-old Spahn has the potential to rejuvenate the aging party and broaden its appeal — while keeping its conservative core satisfied.
The CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, sank to four-year lows in opinion polls in April, opening the door a crack to challengers. Merkel is accused by her conservative critics of taking the party too far to the left with her migration, energy and social policies. While there is little doubt that 61-year-old Merkel will seek a fourth term in federal elections in 2017, some younger CDU stars are cautiously putting themselves forward as conservative alternatives.
“Sometimes, you have to make yourself really unpopular before being taken seriously” — Jens Spahn, quoting Konrad Adenauer
Spahn, who is currently deputy finance minister, certainly doesn’t lack the ambition to one day make a bid for the top job. He joined the CDU youth wing at the age of 15 and ran for the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) seven years later, telling an interviewer at the time that he planned to “to crawl all the way up to the front in Berlin.”
He won a seat. Asked 14 years later about that youthful display of raw ambition, he told POLITICO: “As (post-war chancellor Konrad) Adenauer allegedly once said: ‘Sometimes, you have to make yourself really unpopular before being taken seriously.’ ”
CDU insiders say the chancellor finds Spahn loud and self-confident to the point of impudence. Wolfgang Schäuble, the 73-year-old finance minister, doesn’t care for Spahn’s bumptious nature, according to party members — but made him his deputy last year anyway, and appreciates how well-prepared he is for meetings and his willingness to tackle budget offenders head-on.
Spahn is unsentimental when talking about the revered minister 38 years his senior. “The idea of role models is of no use for me,” he said in an interview in Berlin. “Schäuble is someone everybody can learn a lot from. The man became minster for the first time when I was four-years-old. He’s left his mark on German politics for decades.”
Despite the adulation he receives from German conservatives, Schäuble missed his chance at the leadership when Helmut Kohl decided to run for a fifth term as chancellor in 1998 — and lost. Spahn has other plans.
There was a moment, after the 2013 elections, when Spahn appeared to have peaked too soon. Convinced after Merkel’s reelection victory that he would be named health minister, Spahn was left to stew in the position he had already had for four years, as the conservatives’ spokesman on health policy in the Bundestag.
He bounced back in spectacular style: By the CDU national convention in December 2014, he had built enough backing to bid for a seat on the executive committee, the decision-making inner circle of the CDU.
His speech began like those of the other candidates, reeling off conservative clichés about “the party of hard-working people,” and the applause was suitably tepid.
Then he took a breath. There must be no compromising of Germany’s central values, he said. The congress center in Cologne expected yet another defense of Christian culture in the face of what many conservatives perceive as a threat to Western values from Muslim immigrants.
“Here’s why this topic is so important to me,” Spahn finally said, raising his voice. “I don’t ever want to experience another attack or insults when I walk through Berlin hand-in-hand with my boyfriend.”
The speech won loud applause and helped secure Spahn one of the seven seats on the executive committee, ousting, of all people, the man who had beat him to the health ministry job.
Spahn appeals to both conservatives and progressives by insisting that immigrants embrace values like tolerance. A party that traditionally catered to rural Catholics who are dying out at the rate of about a million every election cycle, the CDU badly needs to boost its appeal to young metropolitans who like Merkel’s progressive ideas like ending conscription, phasing out nuclear power and defending a Willkommenskultur towards Syrian refugees.
At the same time, the party is trying to stem the loss of right-wing voters to the fast-growing, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD).
“If being ‘conservative’ is about preserving certain principles and values that characterize a society — possibly in a new form, as circumstances have changed — I certainly am a conservative,” Spahn said.
Spahn’s homosexuality makes some older CDU politicians squirm, as they grasp for euphemisms to describe his “family situation” or speak of him, like one delegate at the last party congress, as “a pleasant homosexual.”
This isn’t a role Spahn wants to be reduced to, but he sees no contradiction in being a gay conservative, recalling David Cameron’s celebrated remark that he defended same-sex marriage not despite being a Conservative, but “because I am a Conservative.”
Since speaking publicly about his sexuality for the first time in a 2012 interview, Spahn — who dresses soberly in dark suits — takes his partner, a journalist, to formal events, tweeting selfies from meetings with pillars of the conservative establishment.
Other leading CDU politicians of his generation are also putting themselves forward as modern conservatives. Julia Klöckner, a popular party vice-chairperson, has criticized feminists for what she considers misconstrued tolerance of misogyny among Muslims. Paul Ziemiak, head of the CDU’s youth organization, is one of the loudest critics of Merkel’s open-doors policy on refugees while emphasizing his own immigrant background as the son of two Poles.
“Never underestimate how conservative he is” — Daniel Bahr, former health minister
“Twenty or 30 years ago, politicians like Jens Spahn or Julia Klöckner would have been situated in the center of the CDU,” said Hendrik Träger, who teaches politics at the universities of Leipzig and Magdeburg. Now they are the conservative core of a party that has moved increasingly to the left under Merkel’s leadership.
“Never underestimate how conservative he is, including in ethical questions and when it comes to societal issues,” said Daniel Bahr, a friend and contemporary of Spahn and a former health minister from the Free Democrats (FDP).
Spahn is still something of a dark horse when it comes to talk about the CDU succession, with more frequent mention of the 57-year-old Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and 43-year-old Klöckner, though she blotted her copybook by failing to win an election in her home state in March. Previously, CDU contenders seen as direct threats to the chancellor have tended to leave the field wounded. Spahn’s relative youth means he’ll only be a contender once Merkel steps aside.
Spahn makes conciliatory noises about the direction in which Merkel has taken the CDU, saying that rather than “giving up some of our core competences,” her reforms of military service and family policy “fully comply with our conservative nucleus.”
But make no mistake: He is quite capable of criticizing the chancellor directly, while not wanting to fall out with her completely.
When Europe’s refugee problem became an overwhelming crisis last fall, and hundreds of thousands of refugees flocked to Germany alongside would-be economic migrants, Spahn was one of the loudest advocates within the CDU for taking a tougher stance than the chancellor.
He hosted the presentation last November of a book of essays by 22 conservative authors, which was followed by a panel discussion that produced a torrent of criticism of Merkel’s refugee policy.
The headline in the conservative daily Die Welt afterwards was: “Angela Merkel needs to be afraid of this book.”