Germany’s Center-Right CDU Is Making a Quiet Comeback

Germany’s Center-Right CDU Is Making a Quiet Comeback
CDU leader Friedrich Merz speaks at the North Rhine-Westphalia state party conference, in Hurth, Germany, Oct. 28, 2023 (DPA photo by Christoph Reichwein via AP Images).

If there were awards for political persistence, the leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union, Friedrich Merz, would surely get first prize. Having been cast into the political wilderness by then-Chancellor Angela Merkel in the early 2000s, Merz’s attempted comeback as party leader 20 years later, after a lucrative career as a corporate lawyer, initially faltered. But the CDU’s defeat in 2021 in the first election of the post-Merkel era galvanized support for what became his successful leadership bid in 2022.

Now, the CDU and its allies in Bavaria’s Christian Social Union have stealthily consolidated their position as the strongest force in German politics, though their revival has been overshadowed by geopolitical crises, infighting in Germany’s governing coalition and the rise of the far-right AfD party.

The CDU’s recovery after its electoral defeat in 2021 at the hands of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party, or SPD, is even more remarkable given the skepticism generated by Merz’s ascension to party leadership. In its first months in office, Scholz’s ruling coalition—comprising the SPD, the Greens and the pro-market Free Democratic Party—presented itself as a government of national renewal in response to the sense of drift that gripped the CDU/CSU during Merkel’s final years in office. As part of a CDU/CSU-SPD grand coalition, Scholz had served under Merkel as vice chancellor and finance minister in her final government. Nevertheless, in his first 18 months as chancellor he was able to deflect much of the blame for structural crises gripping Germany in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine onto his predecessor and former boss.

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