quinta-feira, 29 de setembro de 2016
Best frenemies forever: Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer
Best frenemies forever: Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer
The chancellor needs Bavarian support if she wants to win a third term next year.
By JANOSCH DELCKER 9/30/16, 5:35 AM CET Updated 9/30/16, 7:34 AM CET
BERLIN — Joined at the hip for 65 years, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and Bavaria’s Christian Social Union are trapped in a love-hate relationship with little affection on display recently.
That’s about to change as the conservative allies gear up for next year’s federal elections when they will face an unaccustomed challenge from an upstart party on the far right that is appealing to the widespread unhappiness with the German chancellor’s refugee policy.
A show of unity is desperately needed. The trouble is: This is precisely where the CDU and CSU disagree.
Support for the Union, as the combined CDU/CSU are known, has plummeted to 33 percent in opinion polls, down 10 percentage points from a year ago. Meanwhile, the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), has climbed to record highs of 15 percent and now has seats in 10 of the country’s 16 state assemblies. Certain to break into the Bundestag next year, it has forced the conservatives to rethink their strategy.
Founded three years ago as a protest party during the eurozone crisis, the AfD had only 3 percent support half-way through 2015. Then came the refugees, enabling the tweedy Euroskeptics to rebrand themselves as an ultra-conservative opposition force.
The rise of the AfD has belatedly forced the CDU and CSU to bury the hatchet, in public at least, after a year of recriminations over Merkel’s decision in August 2016 to let in hundreds of thousands of refugees. After a string of CDU state election losses, she came close enough to contrition last week for the Bavarians, meeting in a monastery, to moderate their tone.
What’s for sure is that she will need the support of the CSU.
“Crucial issues can only be solved between the chancellor and me — and this is what we want to do,” CSU chief and Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer told the state assembly in Munich on Wednesday, slipping in just a mention of the “bitter and difficult months” gone by.
When CDU and CSU national lawmakers met in the Bundestag earlier this week, there was a marked improvement in the atmosphere, according to one CDU official who attended.
Although Merkel’s aides emphasize that all the established parties have lost voters to the AfD, they privately acknowledge that, for the first time in Germany’s post-war history, a far-right party has managed to establish itself to the right of the Union. This is the core of a conflict between the CDU and CSU that Merkel can’t afford if she wants a third term, though she dodges questions about whether she will run.
What’s for sure is that she will need the support of the CSU. Currently, 56 of the 310 seats of her conservative group in the Bundestag are held by the Bavarians.
“We are the best example that keeping the AfD at bay can work if we take the concerns of citizens seriously,” said one CSU lawmaker in Munich, speaking on condition of anonymity. In Bavaria, the CSU is polling at a comfortable 45 percent, with AfD at around 9 percent.
It’s not that Merkel spent the past year ignoring the demand of Seehofer and the conservative wing of the CDU: She brokered the EU-Turkey refugee deal, introduced tougher asylum laws, pushed for faster deportations, campaigned for tighter protection on the EU’s external borders, and denied free passage to refugees stranded in Greece before the deal with Turkey took effect.
Instead, it was the chancellor’s tone that annoyed the Bavarians. Refusing to adopt or adapt far-right slogans to lure back voters from the AfD, she got CDU general secretary Peter Tauber to repeat over and over that the CDU was the “party of the political center.” It was enough for Seehofer, whose party is traditionally more conservative than the CDU, to see red.
German Chancellor Angela Merkeljokes beside Horst Seehofer | Christof Stache/AFP via Getty
German Chancellor Angela Merkel jokes beside Horst Seehofer | Christof Stache/AFP via Getty
His first salvo from Bavaria was to invite Merkel’s most outspoken European opponent, Hungarian Prime Minster Viktor Orbán, to a CSU party meeting. He humiliated the chancellor when she was his guest at the CSU’s annual conference in Munich; he accused her of imposing the “rule of lawlessness;” and he threatened to sue her government in the constitutional court.
Seehofer felt vindicated when the CDU suffered in one state election after the other, though some inside Merkel’s party blamed the constant Bavarian sniping for the setbacks.
The chancellor’s response was to use her party’s disastrous performance in Berlin’s regional elections in mid-September to build bridges with the CSU, while not quite admitting that her own refugee policy was to blame. Using uncharacteristically emotive language, she said in a news conference that she wished she could “turn back time by many, many years, so that I could better prepare myself and the whole government and all those in positions of responsibility for the situation that caught us unprepared in the late summer of 2015.”
Then, earlier this week, she told party colleagues during a meeting in the Bundestag she would henceforth refrain from repeating the “We can do it” mantra with which she had tried to rally the public behind her welcome for the refugees. If these words annoyed her allies, she was prepared to drop them, she was quoted as saying by one lawmaker who attended the meeting.
Party colleagues say Merkel remains convinced she did the right thing by granting safe passage to refugees stranded in Hungary a year ago, and the gesture is likely to secure the 62-year-old chancellor a place in the history books. But from how until the 2017 election, the pragmatic former physicist knows it is all about Realpolitik.
“Germany will remain Germany with everything we hold dear,” she told parliament in a speech in early September — a vague statement perfectly tailored to the conservative party faithful, which could become the motto of an election campaign likely to focus on domestic security, a traditional strong suit of the CDU.
The ceasefire with Seehofer will hold until the elections, but from that moment on Merkel — or whoever is leading the CDU by then — should brace for new attacks from the CSU prepares for its own Bavarian parliamentary elections in 2018.