Merz, laschet and rottgen in a dilemma

Merz, laschet and rottgen in a dilemma

It’s supposed to look young, fresh and modern, the way the offspring of the young union (JU) present the first joint showcase of the three candidates for the CDU presidency.

Eleven cameras broadcast questions and answers from the ultra-modern campaign arena directly at the brandenburg gate in berlin via facebook or zoom conference into the living rooms of the julians. But also the so-called "pitch" of the young union ("who wins the vote of the JU?") cannot cover the dilemma the CDU is facing because of the corona pandemic: the party’s internal election campaign is not really taking off.

This was hardly likely to change for friedrich merz, armin laschet and norbert rottgen in the seven weeks leading up to the party congress. If the 1001 delegates, in the face of ever increasing numbers of infected people, can even participate as planned in the 4. December in stuttgart to elect a successor to party leader annegret kramp-karrenbauer. Election campaigning in corona times is difficult. "Rocking the hall with enthusiasm – that won’t work," says union faction leader ralph brinkhaus (CDU) to the "tagesspiegel am sonntag" newspaper. The CDU’s internal competition was also a foretaste of the 2021 parliamentary election campaign.

There is virtually no sign of a mood on this saturday evening in corona times, no matter how much the moderators moo. The candidates are standing in front of a giant screen, with the hulking merz (64) in the middle, laschet (59) and rottgen (55) to his left and right. They were placed alphabetically, JU is assured. Not that anyone thinks merz has been favored – he is still considered the favorite candidate by many among the party’s newcomers.

Those who then expected a tough debate or news will be disappointed. Merz, laschet and rottgen routinely reel off their answers. In addition to the obligatory digital issue, the topics include education and the future, innovation, the environment and sustainability, intergenerational justice and the future of the CDU as a party of the people.

Laschet always wants to score points with his government experience in NRW. "This is what I am doing…"His credo. Whether it’s corona, the economy, the climate, digitization, generational justice, or internal security, the message every time is: as CDU leader and as chancellor, I will do in germany what I’m already doing in NRW. In addition, the entire breadth of the CDU, as in north rhine-westphalia, must also be visible in the national party – and laschet, the resident of verse, should be the one to do it.

In clear, quick sentences, merz tries to dispel a few prejudices against himself. "I stand for an ecological renewal of the social market economy," he asserts. And: the CDU must remain the german european party. He will write into the government program that there will be no more laws that shift the burdens of today onto the young – the JU will be glad to hear that.

And rottgen warns that neither the country nor the CDU are adequately prepared for the impending shocks. 10 to 20 years behind in digitization. Without credibility in climate policy, the CDU will have no competence for the future. The party must respond to the "epoch break" by becoming more female, younger, more digital and more interesting. Rottgen, the innovator, is probably supposed to be the message.

With his analysis of the situation, rottgen provides one of the few moments in which something like a controversy flares up: laschet directly contradicts him, saying that everything is wrong in germany – after all, the CDU has been in power without interruption since 2005 and, with angela merkel, provides the chancellor. Merz then puts the brakes on laschet’s self-praise on the digital issue: they are not good enough here, the digital infrastructure falls far short of what is possible. But that’s it for the controversial issues.

Clearly, none of the candidates wants to scare off the new generation of party members with a tough debate. All three of them know the CDU well enough to know that too much arguing doesn’t work.

But the candidates face an even more serious dilemma: if they set their camps too much against each other, there is a risk of another split after the december party conference and a lot of quarreling, as was the case after AKK’s election in 2018. The chance of angela merkel becoming chancellor again after 16 years seems within reach. But disputes and mutual attacks between the party camps will weigh heavily on the election campaigns in the super-election year of 2021.

Not to mention the clashes with the CSU over the union’s chancellor candidacy. If the new CDU leader does not enter the new year with a clear vote of confidence in his party, CSU leader markus soder was allowed to position himself even more clearly with regard to his candidacy for chancellor. New conflicts between the union sisters were probably certain.

Who will be in the lead on saturday evening among the newcomers remains an open question. JU chief tilman kuban launches a member survey at the end – the results will be available in two weeks. But it is unclear whether this will produce a clear mood for the party conference.

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