Future CDU boss: So now Merz

To analyse

Status: 17.12.2021 5:42 p.m.

Almost two thirds of the CDU members would like Friedrich Merz to be the party leader. He doesn’t have much time to celebrate. He takes over a badly battered party.

An analysis by Daniel Pokraka, ARD capital studio

Friedrich Merz stands in the middle, between Helge Braun and Norbert Röttgen. This arrangement on the podium in the CDU headquarters also corresponds to the alphabetical order of the surnames, but all three already know that they are correct: with the winner in the middle.

Daniel Pokraka
ARD capital studio

The viewers don’t know yet because Paul Ziemiak, the General Secretary, makes it exciting: He is delighted that almost two thirds of the CDU members took part in the election. For comparison: when the members of the SPD had the choice between the duos Olaf Scholz and Klara Geywitz and Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans a good two years ago, just over half of the Social Democrats voted.

Merz skips the absolute majority

At 2:09 p.m. the bars finally grow upwards, one black, one red, one yellow. That of Braun stops at 12.1 percent, and that of Röttgen also stops early, at 25.8 percent. Friedrich Merz easily skipped the absolute majority with 62.1 percent.

With this result in mind, you see the pictures from yesterday’s Bundestag with completely different eyes. All three, Merz, Röttgen and Braun, took part in the debate on the supplementary budget.

Braun did not look as if he was waiting for a new job as CDU boss, but filled the one he has recently had: He is chairman of the budget committee – one of the few, at least halfway prestigious jobs that the CDU still has has forgiven. He was not planned to be a speaker, but made an interim remark, clearly visible to all.

Röttgen was seen sitting in one of the back rows, little interested in the debate, sometimes in conversation with CSU state group leader Alexander Dobrindt, sometimes with lesser-known colleagues. Merz sat a few chairs away and was asked by two Union MPs for a three-person selfie. The two probably already suspected that they would take a photo with the future CDU boss.

No promises to Braun and Röttgen

Back at the CDU headquarters today. Friedrich Merz practices humility. Chants of triumph are alien to him, he says when asked what his first thought was when he heard of the result. Merz says he only briefly said “Wow” inside. Like Ziemiak before, he is happy about the high turnout, and he has good reason to do so: Merz is particularly popular with the party base, with the so-called “simple members”. Apparently, the fact that many of them voted didn’t do him any harm.

Merz thanks his two opponents Braun and Röttgen for the “good cooperation”, he briefly touches Braun on the arm. He does not promise them positions in the leadership bodies of the CDU. He also does not answer the question of whether the CDU will put up its own candidate for the federal presidential election.

Amicable solution to personnel issues?

Nor does Merz say, not even when asked, whether he now also wants to become chairman of the parliamentary group. He would then be a visible opponent of Chancellor Scholz, the Bundestag is a stage that a party leader is reluctant to do without, which Merz felt in 2002 when CDU leader Merkel pushed him out of the parliamentary group chair and took over herself.

Merz has not ruled out to strive for this post until the end. If he claimed it, he would probably get it. The parliamentary group could hardly refuse the party leader. Incumbent Ralph Brinkhaus would then lose his job. Merz only says that the question does not arise at the moment; Personnel decisions would certainly be resolved amicably.

The structural and substantive realignment of the CDU is at least as important as personnel issues. The high participation of members in the election for party leader can also be interpreted as a mandate to enable more opportunities for the grassroots to participate – in whatever way. Merz wants to make suggestions for internal party work that “perhaps one would have least expected from me”.

CDU needs a profile in terms of content

And where is the content going? In surveys, voters now certify the CDU a problem that the SPD in particular had for a long time: the majority of them no longer know what the CDU stands for. With Merz, the party has chosen a man to whom the labels “conservative” and “economically liberal” are attached. The future party leader has been emphasizing more and more recently that this is not enough for a people’s party.

This is one of the reasons why he has chosen Mario Czaja from Berlin to be the future Secretary General, who is comparatively young at 46 and a former Senator for Health and Social Affairs. He could become something like the social face of the CDU, which could shine especially if it should turn out that the SPD does not deliver enough in this area in the traffic light coalition.

Regardless of how the CDU is repositioning itself under Merz, it will probably take a while. The opposition has to learn it again, the future boss admits. From January, when he is elected by the CDU party congress, Merz will take care of all of this. Today and over Christmas he can breathe deeply: On the third attempt, at the age of 66, he secured the executive chair in the CDU headquarters.


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