Which is dangerous Conservative or Liberal

Orientation towards the center
How the German Conservatives became liberal

Chancellor Angela Merkel made the CDU more social and broke with the conservative dogma. Now there is increasing resistance to this course. An assessment by Matthias Geis.

The Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) is the most successful party in the Federal Republic. With a clear connection to the West, the concept of the social market economy and the commitment to German reunification, it decisively shaped the post-war order after 1945. In 47 of the 67 years of the Federal Republic of Germany, she appointed the Chancellor and in the 2013 federal election nothing looked like an impending crisis. With more than 40 percent of the vote, the course of liberal modernization that Chancellor Angela Merkel has been pursuing since taking office in 2005 seemed impressively confirmed in terms of both content and power.

But in the spring of 2016 the situation changed dramatically: Merkel's policy met resistance not only from her political opponents, but also within the CDU. On the right, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party established itself as a rival party. Merkel was even openly criticized from the Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU). In surveys nationwide, the Union lost approval, while the right-wing populist AfD already mobilized 15 percent of the electorate in spring 2016.

Adaptation to social reality

You could say that it is Angela Merkel's successes whose mortgage is due. Since she took over the party leadership in 2000, she has consistently adapted her party to social reality. After Helmut Kohl (CDU) had been Chancellor for 16 years, who left behind a worn out party after the defeat in 1998, Angela Merkel wanted to “build bridges in society” as CDU chairwoman. She kept her word - across the entire spectrum of the program: under Merkel's leadership, the CDU broke with the conservative dogma that Germany was not a country of immigration and opened up to a moderate migration policy; she reformed her classic family image and promoted the compatibility of family and work; it opened its politics to the concerns of same-sex civil partnerships and it combined its traditionally business-friendly attitude with a much more ecological orientation.

In Merkel's chancellorship, dramatic course corrections were made, such as the abolition of compulsory military service, the introduction of a minimum wage, the exit from nuclear energy and the rescue of the euro with the use of huge billions. Each of these decisions brought Merkel approval in the opposing camp - and criticism from within her own ranks. But the election successes seemed to prove her right.

Break in the chancellorship

In the Merkel era, it was not ideology and awareness of tradition, but solution-oriented pragmatism that shaped the politics of the Union. At first she had caused astonishment with her sober approach, which no longer paid any attention to the traditionalists in the party. But after winning three federal elections and successive coalition governments with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP), Merkel became the undisputed leader of her party and beyond.

Merkel is a very cautious politician. But maybe she wasn't careful enough at the height of her power. The fact that the Chancellor expected the country to accept nearly one million Syrian civil war victims in the course of 2015 met with deep reservations within her party and beyond. Merkel's decision marked a turning point from which her entire chancellorship appears in a different light.

Dangerous liberalization

The spectacular election successes of the right-wing populist AfD suddenly seem like proof that not only Merkel's refugee policy, but the liberal modernization of recent years could be dangerous for the Union. The Merkel CDU hardly offers a political home to a disturbed, conservative milieu that feels overwhelmed by the unreasonable demands of globalization. That is the gap into which the AfD is now advancing.

Unlike the Social Democrats, Angela Merkel has long been able to stabilize the Union as a people's party. To achieve this, she pursued a policy that met the expectations of the German mainstream. Without formally forming a coalition with the Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen party, Merkel has made more and more black-red-green politics - with regard to immigration, family, and ecology. It has disarmed the SPD and the Greens. And the Federal Republic did not do badly in a European comparison during its chancellorship. But Merkel disappointed the conservatives. They are now taking revenge on their successful model, they criticize it sharply or often turn to the AfD. According to the Social Democrats, the Union could face a crisis that calls into question its character as a people's party.