W.hen politics consisted only of organization, the Union would win all federal elections for the next 30 to 50 years – with an absolute majority. While parliamentary committees still cannot manage virtual meetings in the sixth month of the pandemic and the Chancellor also struggles with sound problems when she briefs journalists via video, the youngsters of the party set up an event with American dimensions on Saturday evening amid corona distance rules.
Right next to the Brandenburg Gate in a representative building in the middle of political Berlin, co-financed by a dozen large corporations and companies, broadcast live on television, Armin Laschet, Friedrich Merz and Norbert Röttgen go into their first direct confrontation. Half of the capital city press is there, the rest of them have not received any of the coveted tickets and are watching from home: No wonder, after all, the question of who will be the next CDU chairman and thus possibly a candidate for chancellor is not answered, but is asked .
The matadors arrive fifteen minutes before the start. Well they stand in front of a wall on which JUers can be seen watching the “show” at home on their screens and holding up their iPhones with hearts or clapping hands to signal their approval. Every now and then there is a switch to an adjoining room, where “three fan girls and Mister Lost” rate the performance of the candidates in a shared apartment atmosphere: “Well, would you still like a photo with Friedrich Merz?”
None of the three gentlemen, of whom the oldest is 64 (Merz) and the youngest 55 (Röttgen), gives in to the temptation to throw themselves cheaply at the offspring. They are in a suit and shirt, Merz’s jacket even has gold buttons, after all Röttgen appeared with an open collar. Robert Habeck would certainly have come in a hoodie and Annalena Baerbock in Chucks, but here at JU different rules apply.
JU as a conservative inner-party opposition
The favorite of the party youth is not only the oldest, but also the most conservative candidate according to the general reading: Merz. Because the JU – in earlier CDU generations a permanent bank for the reformers who turned the honorary party CDU into a real people’s party – became a conservative inner-party opposition in the Merkel years.
After being elected one and a half years ago, its chairman Tilman Kuban complained about the “conformity” of the mother party under Merkel. She pays it back by critically asking its board of directors, who get an appointment at the Chancellery once a year, why there are so few women there. After the last nationwide election, the European elections in May 2019, the internal analysis of the Konrad-Adenauer-Haus stated that an “alleged ‘rightward shift’ of the JU” was partly to blame for the fact that the Union was only open to under-30s 13 percent came.
“Right” or “conservative” is nothing on this evening. The young women wear jeans, the men white sneakers and some wear a shirt over their trousers. They speak a jargon that should sound like an advertising agency and start-up: a “pitch” is the audition of candidates, the questions that are added come from “users” and later that evening, when Röttgen pleads for the police to actually pursue crimes the moderator is happy, he is a “real tough cookie”.
At a meeting at party headquarters three weeks ago, the candidates promised not to harm each other. Accordingly, one has to listen carefully to identify any differences. But there are.
“That can’t be true!” Says Merz
Armin Laschet presents himself as a candidate for “Keep it up”. The Chancellor and the CDU have been ruling for twenty years, so you couldn’t say that everything was bad. In his opening statement, he repeats the rhetorical figure seven times: “I’ll do it”. His future scenario for Germany is the present of its North Rhine-Westphalian state government. The CDU is ruling with the FDP, it is fighting bureaucracy with “escape packages”, it is already following clans, there is even WiFi in schools and fast internet. And in his parliamentary group in Düsseldorf, he had at least obtained eight JU members.
Quite different from Merz: “This country has become too slow. We have become too lazy. ”Germany lives at the expense of the future, including the youth. He wants to change that. Even in his first government statement, it was stated that no more burdens would be shifted into the future. The German companies had proven their worth in the pandemic, but the administration and schools did not. There are 14 different implementing ordinances for the General Data Protection Regulation in the federal government – “that must not be true!”
While Laschet essentially doesn’t want any change, Merz strives for it, Röttgen has a third narrative: The changes would come anyway, whether you want it or not. An “epoch break” is imminent: “Neither the country nor the CDU is adequately prepared for what is coming.” The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag means above all geopolitical changes, which he only suggests, and technological change: Estonia is Germany is already 20 years ahead of Germany in terms of digitization.
Digitization is the dominant and for a long time almost the only topic of the event. The main concern of the Junge Unioner is that the dead spots will finally be closed, every student will get an iPad and that you can finally register your car digitally. The candidates outbid each other: A “digital ministry” must be introduced in the federal government, says Laschet, in his NRW it already exists. Merz counters that the digital ministry would then also have to be a “cross-sectional ministry” with all responsibilities. But Röttgen has come up with the best: there must be a “digital digital ministry”. After all, it is important to set a good example.
Questions like from a parallel world
At some point, both moderators and the connected “users” begin to ask questions beyond technology, but they do not seem to come from the Germany of the corona pandemic and not from the generation of Fridays-For-Future, but from a parallel world. Nobody is interested in whether the Prime Minister negligently prevented the Chancellor from setting stricter rules last week. Or, conversely, whether Merkel is not too one-sidedly fixated on the number of infections and is exaggerating the risk. Nobody asks the obvious question for the CDU of who, as party chairman, is considering leaving the candidate for chancellor to Armin Laschet. Or how he wants to rule with the Greens as Chancellor.
When the issue of climate change came up late in the evening, Laschet spoke about the fact that CO2 emissions had already been reduced by 36 percent – compared to 1990. Röttgen and Merz praise emissions trading as a market-based instrument – but it is was introduced ten years ago. Nobody here wants to know whether Germany should tax CO2 in future and how much. Not even whether the candidates are in favor of tariffs on imports that are hostile to the climate, as the EU is currently discussing.
When the 25-year-old presenter wants to know when he can retire, Laschet has to laugh first. He then bypasses the answer because he does not want to produce a headline that he is for a higher retirement age. Merz thinks everyone should then retire when they want. Röttgen dares to be honest: “It will not stay at the current age of the statutory pension. We have to increase that in order to remain reliable. “
In their closing statements, the candidates indicate what they want to impress the party congress on December 4th with: The CDU must “remain the party of the center,” says Laschet. The CDU must “become the party of the modern center”, demands Röttgen. He does not want “a break” with the Merkel era, says Merz, but now there is “a new responsibility”.
Of the 100,000 JUers, 70,000 are also in the CDU. They are now allowed to vote for two weeks who they think will be the best next chairman. In fact, only 100 vote. That is how many of the 1001 party congress delegates belong to the youth organization.