BERLIN, GERMANY - MAY 6: Friedrich Merz, leader of the German Christian Democrats (CDU), speaks on the first day of the party's three-day federal party congress on May 6, 2024 in Berlin, Germany. Merz is running for re-election as party head. The CDU is the main opposition party in Germany and currently leads nationwide in polls by a substantial margin. (Photo by Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)


Germany’s CDU, scenting power, tacks Right with new party programme


Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU) has adopted a party programme that positions it distinctly more to the Right from its centrist orientation under former chancellor Angela Merkel.

Among the new manifesto proposals revealed on May 7 are requiring immigrants to sign up for Germany’s Leitkultur, or dominant culture, with a body of beliefs that include recognising Israel’s right to exist.

Other proposals in the programme included sending refugees to “safe third countries” (a nod to the UK’s Rwanda policy), bringing back nuclear power and introducing an obligatory “year of service” to benefit society for school leavers. Regarding “green” policy, the party adopted a line of “leaving it to inventors” to develop technological solutions to climate change.

The new programme reflected an attempt to distinguish the CDU’s party leader Friedrich Merz, leading in polls with around 30 per cent, from a Chancellor Olaf Scholz whose coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals is performing poorly.

Scholz’s Social Democrats currently ranks at around 15.5 per cent, the Greens 12 per cent and Liberals 5 per cent.

The rise of the AfD, coming in at 18 per cent in a May 6 poll, suggests more swing votes may lie to the Right.

On Europe, the programme is “pro EU but with some EU-sceptic language”, said German broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s Michaele Kuefner.

Brexit “wouldn’t have happened if Europe had made more concessions to the UK”, Merz said during the conference, adding that Merkel’s Germany was partly to blame.

Merz was a former rival to Merkel, shunted aside in a power struggle in the 2000s, and many aspects of the programme – the party’s first since 2007 – are pointed reversals of Merkel’s policies.

Merkel had abolished the draft, allowed more than 1 million refugees to settle in Germany in 2015-6, and phased out nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Merz “is trying to overcome his trauma, the trauma of being pushed out by Merkel”, said Berlin-based columnist Maurice Höfgen.

For a Merz who appears to be keen on abolishing Merkel’s legacy, there could also be one more trophy to be claimed: European Commission President and European People’s Party (EPP) member Ursula von der Leyen, now seen as close to Scholz’s Government.

In France, French President Emmanuel Macron currently is looking to “form an EPP alliance with Merz”, to displace von der Leyen with an alternative candidate as EC chief, said Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group.

His climate policy line also appeared pitched to a moment of growing scepticism with von der Leyen’s Green Deal, even if it caused German science writer Christian Scharun to retort: “we have already invented the necessary technologies and are just not using them sufficiently.”

Merz has been the CDU’s leader since 2022 and is still attempting to put his stamp on a party he has only led in opposition.

At the party conference, he faced the danger of being eclipsed by Bavarian chief minister Markus Söder.

This was the problem of “when your guest act becomes the top act at the party conference that just re-elected you as leader”, quipped Kuefner.

Other ambitious challengers also beckon in the CDU’s wings, including North Rhine-Westphalia’s chief minister.

“The media are betting on Hendrik Wüst,” said German journalist Roland Tichy.