The “demerkelization” of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is underway. Nine days after Angela Merkel’s departure from the Chancellery, her lifelong rival, Friedrich Merz, was elected, Friday, December 17, at the head of the party she chaired from 2000 to 2018. Aged 66, this assumed conservative inherits a CDU in the midst of an existential crisis after its debacle in the legislative elections of September 26 (24.1%, the worst score in its history).
For Friedrich Merz, who will be officially invested during a congress scheduled for January 21 and 22, 2022, this victory is first and foremost that of perseverance. In December 2018, he had already tried to be elected as the head of the party after Angela Merkel decided to step down as president. In vain: it was Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the designated runner-up to the ex-chancellor, who had won the day. In January 2021, after the latter in turn announced his withdrawal, he was again a candidate. Without more success: this time, it was Armin Laschet, another pure merkélien, who was elected.
After these two failures, Friedrich Merz could have drawn a final line on his ambitions. But Armin Laschet’s decision to leave the presidency of the CDU after the rout of the legislative elections convinced him to try his luck again. The third time will therefore have been the right one. With 62.1% of the vote, he largely won on Friday against his two adversaries, the former chairman of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Norbert Röttgen (25.8%), and the former Head of the Federal Chancellery, Helge Braun (12.1%).
As much as this very clear result obtained in the first round, it is the way in which Friedrich Merz was elected that gives it undeniable legitimacy. Contrary to what was the case until then, it was not the 1,001 delegates of the CDU (executives, elected officials and representatives of the federations) but all of its 400,000 members who were called upon to choose the president of the party. However, for this unprecedented exercise, the participation was high: 66%. By way of comparison, when the Social Democratic Party (SPD) consulted its 425,000 members to elect its new leadership, in November 2019, the turnout was 54%.
With Olaf Scholz (SPD) in the Chancellery and Friedrich Merz in the Presidency of the CDU, “Merkelism” is therefore not where one might expect it to be. Although a social democrat, the new head of government is indeed much closer to the ex-chancellor than is the new strongman of the party she chaired for eighteen years. In this, the victory of Friedrich Merz is not only that of perseverance: it also has a serious taste of revenge.
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With Friedrich Merz, the CDU turns the page on the Merkel years