terça-feira, 7 de junho de 2016
Angela Merkel’s divided Union veers toward fall
Angela Merkel’s divided Union veers toward fall
German chancellor and Bavarian CSU leader Horst Seehofer are split over migration and the rise of the far-right.
By JANOSCH DELCKER 6/7/16, 5:32 AM CET
BERLIN — As she struggles to solve Europe’s refugee crisis, the greatest challenge to Angela
Merkel’s leadership comes not from an increasingly unhelpful Turkish president but her notional ally in Bavaria.
While the chancellor sparred with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over press freedom, anti-terror legislation and visa liberalization — all aimed at securing the controversial refugee swap between the EU and Turkey — her Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), are in the throes of their worst internal crisis in over 40 years.
A decade-old rivalry between Merkel and her Bavarian counterpart Horst Seehofer began to heat up last September over the refugees, and there are deep divides between their two conservatives parties on how to respond to a new far-right challenge from the Alternative for Germany (AfD).
This all threatens to come to a head at an extraordinary CDU/CSU summit at the end of this month, to be held on neutral terrain at a convention center in Potsdam. Talk of “the Union” — as their grouping in the national parliament is known — breaking apart may be premature, but the spat between Berlin and Munich is of real concern to party elders.
“This is a first. For the first time, the CSU questions the unity of the two parties, blaming the CDU for a drift to the Left, towards the political center,” Heiner Geissler, an 86-year-old CDU veteran, told public broadcaster ARD on Saturday. “This has to stop.”
Franz Josef vs Helmut
The symbiosis between Merkel’s CDU, which exists in all 15 of Germany’s 16 states except Bavaria, and the CSU is unique in the country’s party system: They can act as one group in the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) because they don’t compete with each other in national elections.
The history of the Union, dating back to 1949, is full of episodes of rivalry and attacks, with the Bavarian party often casting itself in the role of champion of conservative values against the more heterogeneous tendencies in the CDU.
They’ve always made up afterwards, though not before some very brusque exchanges: In 1976, CSU leader Franz Josef Strauss called the CDU’s Helmut Kohl “completely incapable” for failing to get elected chancellor. “He lacks any preconditions when it comes to character, intellect and politics — he lacks everything.” Kohl proved him wrong six years later, becoming chancellor for the next 16 years, a record as yet unmatched by Merkel.
“Everything they [the CSU] do is meant to preserve their hegemony on power in Bavaria” — Frank Decker, politics professor
Yet officials and experts agree that the current conflict between Merkel and Seehofer is unprecedented in its bitterness and duration.
It was sparked on the night of Friday, September 4, 2015, when Merkel decided to grant free passage to refugees stuck at a train station in the Hungarian capital Budapest — against Seehofer’s will.
Merkel reportedly tried to call Seehofer that night, but the Bavarian state premier did not answer his phone; Seehofer says he had turned off his cell phone that night, according to a report in Spiegel magazine.
Around a week later, Seehofer said Merkel’s decision “was a mistake that will occupy us for a long time.”
It was a self-fulfilling prophecy: The German chancellor has since then been under a torrent of attacks from the Bavarians. That same month, Seehofer provoked Merkel by rolling out the red carpet for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, one of her most outspoken opponents. Two months later, Seehofer lectured and humiliated her when she was a guest at a CSU congress.
Early in 2016, he first threatened to sue Merkel’s government at the Constitutional Court, and then said her refugee policy had put Germany into a state of “unlawful rule.”
Seehofer clearly has an eye on the opinion polls: As hundreds of thousands of refugees poured into Germany, the initial welcome turned critical and support for the conservatives began to suffer. Since September, the CDU/CSU bloc has fallen to about 33 percent support in the polls, down from 42 percent, while the anti-immigrant AfD has risen to 13 percent from 4 percent. According to a poll by Spiegel, a majority of Germans believe Seehofer’s criticism of Merkel has boosted the AfD.
It’s not only the AfD that has benefited: While the CDU is suffering in the polls, Seehofer’s strategy seemed to have paid off for the CSU back home in Bavaria, where support for the AfD is more modest at 8 percent and the CSU gets 48 percent approval.
“Seehofer and the CSU have one clear priority, which is Bavaria. This is the root cause of this fight,” said Frank Decker, a politics professor at the University of Bonn. “Everything they do is meant to preserve their hegemony on power in Bavaria.”
The CSU chief knows his attacks against Merkel resonate in the Bavarian capital, where officials burst into tirades about die Merkel, and one complained about being called by “every other CSU parish council chair in Bavaria” to protest at her policies.
Seehofer’s aggressive stance may also be an attempt to secure his own standing in Munich, particularly — according to German media reports — against attempts by the state’s ambitious finance minister, 49-year-old Markus Söder, to promote himself.
But the pushback against Merkel in Bavaria is not just a reflection of grassroots sentiment — it is also being encouraged by party elders such as Edmund Stoiber, the CSU’s éminence grise. German media report that it was the former Bavarian state premier and ex-party chief who recommended that Seehofer extend the invitation to Orbán, and who organized Stoiber and Seehofer’s trip to Moscow in February to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin — another provocation aimed at Merkel.
A conservative hardliner with a legendary network of connections, Stoiber knows Seehofer has scores to settle with Merkel. In 2004, Seehofer resigned as deputy head of the CDU/CSU group in the Bundestag after Merkel — then CDU party leader and opposition leader, still a year away from becoming chancellor — pushed through a health policy compromise he had vehemently opposed.
Merkel’s strategy has so far been to ignore the Bavarian attacks, but nine months of CSU salvoes are taking their toll and officials say the chancellor is becoming increasingly angry, while the CDU is getting worried about the harm to the party.
Backed by advisers like Peter Altmaier, who runs her chancellery, Merkel seems to believe the conservatives’ best tactic for dealing with the AfD is not to copy their populist messages, but to modernize the CDU and broaden its appeal. This has not just annoyed the Bavarians: One CDU official in the Bundestag said the removal of members of the party’s conservative wing from top positions since she became chancellor in 2005 has tilted the party too far to the Left.
While there have been reports about CSU plans to break free from the CDU, campaign behind its own candidate in the 2017 elections and — for the first time — not join forces with the CDU in a single bloc afterwards, experts like politics professor Decker are skeptical. Apart from anything, CSU is well aware of the CDU’s superiority in numbers. Currently, only 56 of the 310 CDU/CSU members of parliament come from the CSU.
History would seem to support that view.
When Kohl and Strauss crossed swords back in 1976, the Bavarian leader pushed the CSU to break with the CDU in the Bundestag, triggering one of the worst crises in the history of the Union. Kohl counterattacked, threatening to found a Bavarian branch of his Christian Democrats and challenge the CSU’s conservative hegemony in the state.
The CSU blinked first. Just three weeks later, Strauss withdrew his threat and the two conservative forces in the Bundestag were reunited.
When Seehofer said in a newspaper interview on Sunday that he would like to end the dispute with Merkel, one CDU official — who did not want to be identified — shrugged it off with the words: “Let’s see how long it lasts this time.”