The CDU party conference has renewed its support for party leader Kramp-Karrenbauer. The so-called K-question, however, has not been answered.
The CDU has often been to Leipzig for the party conference: in 2003 it was all about the new beginning and beer mats, in 2011 Merkel managed to handle the moaners in the party – and what remains of Leipzig 2019? A beleaguered party leader who can now also plan for the next few months at the top of the party. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has gained time with her vote of confidence – nothing more.
The party may be disciplined for the time being, but AKK remains a boss on probationary perod. If she can’t show results quickly, criticism and doubts about her qualities should return immediately, and so will the personnel alternatives, the leadership reserve of the party around Friedrich Merz, Armin Laschet, Jens Spahn. Especially since the K question – the decision who will be the CDU/CSU top candidate – has merely been adjourned.
End of the Merkel era
One person at the conference had nothing to do with any of it anymore: Angela Merkel. It was her first party conference as Chancellor only – she gave a short speech at the beginning, praised the successes of her 14-year-old chancellorship, received polite applause and sat down again. An era is over.
AKK rival Friedrich Merz is alos part of the Merkel era somehow. However, he does not see himself as a has-been at all. For his followers, too, he remains a symbol for the good old days, for clear conservative messages and meaty phrases. Although Merz in Leipzig did not come up with anything programmatically, he kept himself in the internal power struggle. This struggle will surely be rekindled in 2020 when the K question must be answered.
But Merz may also have learned something: Too much badmouthing backfires in the end and does not win popular support. Merz’s fundamental criticism was therefore not particularly well received within the party’s own ranks. The CDU should not even get used to this, advised Kramp-Karrenbauer and could at least be sure of the delegates’ applause at this point. “If you win four elections in a row, that can’t be so bad”, as Markus Söder agreed as well.
Söder steals the show
Markus Söder, the head of the CSU, held the only classical party conference speech – but it was only a short welcoming speech. He spoke freely, bringing clear political messages to the point with impressive entertainment value. The 2018 CDU/CSU dispute? Let’s never do it again. The SPD? Still there. The Greens: Our main contender. The AfD: Our enemy. The delegates gave standing ovations for minutes. It was the speech that Kramp-Karrenbauer should have given. Perfectly staged, with the right doses of retrospect and outlook.
It was also Söder who in Leipzig called the elephant in the room by its name: the K question. He said it was important to think about who would be the CDU/CSU’s candidate for chancellor. “But the key question is not only to think about when we will nominate candidates, but also, who it will be in the end. Because in the end I don’t care who the candidate will be. I want the Chancellor to be a CDU/CSU Chancellor in 2021.”
On this occasion, Söder also said that he didn’t think much of holding a party ballot to this end – also because the CSU would like to have a say. If Söder has ambitions of his own, this would have been a great application.
As expected, the party ballot for the chancellor candidacy of the ‘Junge Union’ (youth organisation) had no chance. The delegates rejected it with a clear majority. In the debate, the SPD was repeatedly cited as a deterrent example. For six months the Social Democrats have been looking for a new leadership in a very grassroots and costly way. In one week, on 30 November, the result will be known.
AKK without vision
Coalition partner SPD was another important topic at the conference. The next big hurdle for the Grand Coalition is already on 6 December: Then the SPD will decide at its own party conference whether to remain in the government alliance. However, the crisis coalition was hardly the main subject of this party conference. After all, the CDU has enough to do with itself. But even less than a year after taking office and speaking for about an hour and a half, it is still not really clear where Kramp-Karrenbauer wants to lead the party. The idea of representing the “strong centre” is vague at best – but where is it, who belongs to it and what does “the centre” want? Kramp-Karrenbauer wants to broaden the party – toward trade unionists, craftsmen and women, but it remains somewhat unclear how.