Germany: Das Ende

Published on December 7, 2018

Voting at the Christian Democratic Union conference in Hamburg to elect its next party leader to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel begins shortly. As a prelude to the vote, a quick note on the potential outcome and its consequences:

** CDU party secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is favored by Merkel as her successor, is generally considered the front runner. But if she fails to win a majority of the 1,001 member votes on the first ballot, we think her primary rival, Friedrich Merz, has a very strong chance to edge her out for the party leadership. The third candidate, Jens Spahn, has no chance of winning.

** As a prelude to the vote, Kramp-Karrenbauer is said to have given “the best speech of a lifetime” earlier this morning at the conference, while Merz is said to have given one of his most lackluster speeches, and that from supporters in his own camp. It could hurt Merz’s prospects in a delegate vote that is about to get underway.

** But we think Merz could still very likely win, on two counts: the first is that the third candidate Spahn is almost certain to call for his supporters to vote for Merz in a second round, and second, and more importantly, Merz has the considerable backing of Bundestag President and CDU veteran Wolfgang Schaeuble, who many in the CDU consider “the best Chancellor Germany never had,” and who will be discreetly marshaling support for Merz.

** We have long felt Schaeuble has been the power behind the maneuverings inside the CDU and the Christian Social Union over the last year to dislodge Merkel as Chancellor (see SGH 9/29/17, “Germany: Schaeuble’s Vote of No Confidence”). If Merkel’s favored candidate Kramp-Karrenbauer loses to Merz, we suspect it will accelerate Merkel’s departure as Chancellor, either in new federal elections or a vote of confidence, probably some time after the May European Parliamentary elections next year. 

** Even if Kramp-Karrenbauer wins today, Merkel’s Grand Coalition with the Social Democrats will remain weakened by the internal CDU and CSU turmoil, as well as the SPD’s own party problems. Merkel may still decide to resign as Chancellor, in which case either Merz, or more probably Schaeuble, will come forward as the CDU Chancellor-candidate in a Bundestag second ballot vote of confidence. The assumption by many analysts that a Merz victory as CDU leader would mean he would get the Chancellorship candidacy is not necessarily true.

** If Merz does take the CDU party leadership, we think the odds will rise significantly that it could push the SPD into leaving the Grand Coalition and into opposition for a period to rebuild the party’s standing and to counter the gains by the Greens in the political center in German politics. If the SPD does pull out, it will mean new federal elections, again, probably after the May European elections. 

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