The German Christian Democrats are waiting for an awkward start in Superwahljahr. Six German Länder elect a new parliament this year and in autumn there will be national elections. These are the first elections in sixteen years in which Angela Merkel is no longer on the list of candidates for the CDU.
And where until recently it seemed that her party would again be the biggest with ease, blunders and scandals shake that comfortable position.
Today is the kick-off of the important election year. The Länder of Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg (BW) are allowed to vote. The eyes are mainly focused on the latter state, because it is expected that the Grünen will win there and that Merkels party, the CDU, will be severally punished. It may be a harbinger of what awaits the country at the parliamentary elections in the autumn.
The Christian Democrats are not good in BW. In better times, the CDU in Baden-Württemberg received a large majority of the votes, now with the worst result ever achieved, 27 percent in 2016, they would be delighted.
The causes of the difficult situation of the CDU are partly local. Frame creator Susanne Eisenmann is not popular. Even within her party, only 20 percent are satisfied with her work.
With her opponent, the current state Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann of die Grünen, it is exactly the other way around. He is so loved that even two-thirds of CDU members would vote for him if they could elect the Prime Minister directly.
Part of the misery is due to the functioning of colleagues in Berlin. For where the Christian Democrats of the CDU/CSU were still able to count on enormous consent among the population at the beginning of the coronacrisis, the criticism is now getting louder.
The many deaths in the nursing homes, a vaccination campaign that does not come on steam, a blundering health minister and Merkel who seems to be staring blind at infection rates: only half of the Germans are satisfied with the coronapolitics of the government.
Mouthcaps and bribes
On top of that, there will be a devastating and expanding corruption scandal. Two Members of the Union had to leave last week, after it became known that they had earned tons of money from mediating between producers and customers of mouthcaps.
Later, a CDU gave up his seat because he had also set up a mouthcap trade and is also suspected of taking bribes from Azerbaijan. In the meantime, there has been a broad discussion about the lack of morality and distance from business among the Christian Democrats. The corruption scandal is becoming a crisis of confidence.
Apart from the CDU, the political situation in Baden-Württemberg is also interesting. It is the only state where a Prime Minister of the Grünen is in power: Winfried Kretschmann. For the past five years, he has led a Green-Black government together with the CDU. Given the national polls (CDU stands at 33 per cent, the Greens at 18 per cent), this could just be a blueprint for Germanys post-Merkel era.
Kretschmann is not a typical Grüne politician. He works remarkably smoothly with the CDU, and this is mainly due to his pragmatic attitude. Kretschmann is committed to wind power, but also to the hundreds of thousands of Baden-Württembergers working in the automotive industry (the state is home to Daimler).
For example, he sent a letter to Brussels asking for corona aid for car manufacturers, and he is not in favour of banning the internal combustion engine by 2030. Everything under the motto: “An industry that no longer exists cannot be changed either.”
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the Realpolitik of Kretschmann. “Im very disappointed. Hes setting his targets way too low. Hes actually more of a CDU player with a green edge than the other way around,” says, for example, 20-year-old Jonathan Heckert. The climate activist participated in the demos of Fridays for Future over the past two years and joined a new party with a stricter climate programme Die Klimaliste.
It is necessary, says Heckert, because “the situation is much more acute, the figures are much worse than what I am hearing politicians now.”
The Greens will also have to step up these tendencies between idealism and pragmatism nationally. How do you address a large group of voters without diluting your climate message? It is an interesting question that will dominate the campaigns – not just those of the Greens – this year.