Cablegate: Cdu/Csu Rivalry and Unity: Merkel Needs Both for Electoral

Published: Fri 25 Jul 2008 12:46 PM
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1. The July 18-19 CSU party convention demonstrated that recent
media reports about a deep split between the CDU and CSU have been
overblown. In a skillful speech before the CSU party congress,
Chancellor Merkel brushed aside recent CDU/CSU tensions, praising
the CSU's achievements as a model for all of Germany, and
demonstrating that she knows how to win the hearts of the rebellious
sister party. In the face of polls that continue to show the CSU
could potentially lose its forty-six-year-long absolute majority,
party chairman Erwin Huber and Bavarian Minister President Guenther
Beckstein have vowed to fight back, and a sense of confidence for a
successful election result seems to be returning to the party rank
and file.
2. The CDU/CSU needs a certain amount of disunity to maximize its
national strength. Past experience has shown that the CSU is
strongest when it can play the card of Bavaria's uniqueness. By
doing so, some collateral damage to unity with the CDU sister party
is inevitable. However, a strong CSU showing in Bavaria's September
2008 elections is a prerequisite for the CDU/CSU to be successful in
2009 national elections. Chancellor Merkel seems to be well aware
of this fact and is able to play along to strengthen her position on
the federal level. End summary.
Campaign Entering Hot Phase
3. The CSU started the hot phase of its campaign in the run-up to
the September 28 Bavarian state election with a party convention in
Nuremberg July 18/19. Party chairman Erwin Huber and Bavarian M-P
Guenther Beckstein vowed to fight to maintain the CSU's absolute
majority which they said was a prerequisite for Bavaria's standing
as one of the world's most prosperous regions. A change of
government would lead to a dramatic downturn, they warned. While
recent opinion polls indicate that up to six political parties might
in fact enter Bavarian parliament this fall, the potential newcomers
-- FDP, Independents and Left Party -- have too little in common
with the opposition SPD and Greens to make a change of government a
realistic option. However, the CSU is deeply concerned about the
mere possibility of falling short of the 50 percent threshold and
will fight tooth and nail to defend Bavaria as Europe's singular
one-party powerhouse.
Sisterly Love
4. Recent reports about a deep split between the CDU and CSU appear
to be overblown. The CDU/CSU relationship has never been easy and
free of tensions, and the CDU needs an independent CSU party that
can win majorities by identifying closely with the state of Bavaria
and local interests. Without a strong CSU result in Bavaria, the
CDU would not be in a position to win national elections. It has
always been the CDU leaders' task to protect the CSU's independence
and strength without at the same time caving in to CSU demands. In
her keynote address at the CSU convention, Chancellor Merkel
skillfully avoided mentioning the current bone of contention between
the two parties -- the CSU's request to reinstitute full commuter
subsidies for taxpayers, which Merkel vehemently rejects. The
Chancellor instead dwelled on the many areas of CDU/CSU unity. At
the same time, she praised the CSU's achievements, concluding that
"Bavaria already has reached the top, something the rest of Germany
is still striving for." She also paid tribute to the legendary
Bavarian Franz Josef Strauss whom she praised as a key contributor
to German unity. Finally, she made an extra concession to CSU
chairman Huber, praising his tax reform concept -- "more net incomes
for everyone" -- as an important initiative that will be fully
integrated into a joint CDU/CSU concept next year.
5. At the same time, many CSUers have voiced concern about recent
attacks (mainly by Minister President Beckstein) on Merkel,
commenting that a strategy that includes attacks on the most popular
politician in Germany might in fact backfire rather than win
elections. The CSU should not forget who the real opponent is:
Social Democrat (SPD) Chairman Kurt Beck and his party. In
particular, Berlin-based CSU politicians such as Federal Ministers
Michael Glos and Horst Seehofer and CSU Bundestag Caucus chair Peter
Ramsauer insist that the CSU should not push the controversy too
Brotherly Love
6. The CSU convention highlighted that Huber and Beckstein will
either win together or fall together, as it is likely that neither
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will survive an electoral disaster. Seehofer, who was defeated by
Huber one year earlier, may see a chance to become CSU party
chairman after all if the CSU falters this Autumn.
7. Surprisingly, Beckstein gave a strong speech at the convention,
one that conveyed optimism and rallied the CSU rank-and-file. He
reminded the convention that all other political parties in Bavaria
have just one common denominator -- the fight against the CSU.
Beckstein is not the charismatic leader that Edmund Stoiber was in
his prime, but people see him as reliable. In a July 18 editorial,
the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" noted that the CSU might not be facing
difficulties today had it not obtained a two-thirds majority in the
2003 election. This monopoly on power might have alienated the
party from its voters. For the upcoming election, fifty percent is
the goal. Somewhat less may be enough to retain an absolute
majority of Landtag deputies, but the psychological consequences
would be disastrous.
8. The party convention made clear that the CSU is fighting with
its back to the wall. For the first time in decades it is in real
danger of losing its absolute majority. Recent CSU politicking has
also shown that a wounded Bavarian lion may even attack its allies
in an effort to regain strength -- something which should not come
as a surprise to the CDU. Erwin Huber demonstrated political savvy
with his tax reform concept and his call for the return of commuter
subsidies at a time of soaring oil prices, thus identifying a
campaign issue that might work. Polls have recently started
predicting better results for the CSU. This is a minor fiscal
issue, and the CSU still cannot achieve this without agreement from
the CDU. However, tilting against that windmill still motivates the
party base, adds to their identity, perhaps inspires voters, and
challenges the Chancellor in a relatively benign way. Lock-step
unity with the CDU would detract from CSU "specialness" and weaken
the party. The Chancellor understands this and is able to play
along to strengthen her position on the federal level.
9. This report has been coordinated with Embassy Berlin.
10. Previous reporting from Munich is available at any.
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