The result in the state elections was weak, Free Voters leader Hubert Aiwanger has the upper hand. And there is a risk of severe vote losses in next year’s European elections.
Hardly anyone is as good at self-dramatization as Markus Söder, and he doesn’t shy away from embarrassment. Last week, in one of his usual video messages, he lit an Advent wreath in a flashy red Christmas sweater with a large moose head on his chest and wished his followers on Instagram a nice first Advent.
CSU in crisis? Aiwanger and the Free Voters remain unpredictable for Markus Söder
Söder also likes to appear on television as the strong man who has everything under control. He recently announced to Maischberger that his place is in Munich, but from time to time he will be in Berlin to check on things. From Söder’s perspective, the problems with his unpredictable coalition partner Hubert Aiwanger have vanished into thin air. “We work really well together,” says Söder. And if Aiwanger does more populist extra tours? “I’ll take care of that.”
But viewed soberly, the situation for Söder and the CSU looks completely different. In the state elections, the targeted benchmark of 40 percent was clearly missed; after the second state election under Söder, the CSU is weaker than it has been since the early 1950s. And the expectation that the rebellious Aiwanger could be put on the chain after the election, because then the beer tent season, in which the head of the Free Voters had made a big impression, has not been fulfilled either. Aiwanger remains an unpredictable partner for Söder – one who doesn’t think about being subordinate.
Coalition with Free Voters a mistake by Markus Söder and the CSU
It is becoming increasingly clear that Söder’s early decision to continue a coalition with the Free Voters in order to allay the CSU’s fear of the black-green coalition was a serious strategic mistake that is now catching up with Söder. During the election campaign, no one in the CSU dared to criticize this line. The Greens are too unpopular among the party base, especially after the dispute over the heating law. But now people who previously remained silent out of consideration are also venturing out of cover.
“That shows how dependent you have become,” says former CSU leader and long-time Stoiber confidante Erwin Huber about Söder’s coalition course. “The CSU has thus given up the goal of an independent government and taken motivation away from the election campaign.”
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This analysis lies IPPEN.MEDIA in the course of a cooperation with the Berlin.Table Professional Briefing before – first published it Berlin.Table on December 7, 2023.
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Criticism of Markus Söder: “It would have been a lot cheaper”
The Greens, hated by the CSU base, would by no means have been the only alternative for Söder; He could also have left the door open to the SPD, as Boris Rhein did in Hesse. “A coalition with the SPD is much more serious than with the Free Voters,” says one of Söder’s critics, adding: “They would also have been much cheaper.”
Nobody could have predicted before the election that both the CSU and the SPD would perform so poorly that a black-red coalition in the state parliament would now only have a wafer-thin majority of one vote. This model is therefore no longer suitable as a threat to the Free Voters for a coalition change in the middle of the legislative period.
Future of the CSU uncertain: Party leaders are critical of Markus Söder’s departure
Huber is not the only Söder predecessor who has been critical of the CSU’s development for a long time, Theo Waigel also sees it similarly, as did Söder’s immediate predecessor Horst Seehofer, but Seehofer remains publicly silent. From the previous team, only Edmund Stoiber is firmly at Söder’s side.
Disillusionment is spreading among other experienced CSU people who experienced the golden age with absolute majorities. There is an informal circle of former federal and state government members that meets several times a year, organized by former Finance Minister Georg von Waldenfels. Former parliamentary speakers are also invited. 15 to 20 people always come together there. At the meetings, not only are the old times glorified, but current deficits are also discussed. And in the eyes of the old people they are obvious. The election campaign was weak, was limited to attacks on the traffic lights and did not present any solutions to the pressing problems.
Political crisis in the CSU: What does Markus Söder and the party still stand for?
In key policy areas, one does not know what the party actually stands for; the current example is citizens’ money, which was co-decided by the Union and thus also by the CSU and which is now being fiercely opposed. The campaigning ability of the CSU, which in its heyday was always a robust fighting community, has also suffered.
It was always customary for the Junge Union’s auxiliary troops to put up posters for the respective candidates, manage information stands and take part in door-to-door election campaigns. In Munich, CSU applicants in this state election reportedly experienced that the party’s young people were only willing to provide such support services for a fee.
Exhausted at the federal and state levels
Crisis of meaning in the CSU: Markus Söder still firmly in the saddle – the old people complain, the young people duck away
But as long as only the old people complain and the current generation ducks away, Söder has nothing to fear. The depletion of personnel at the federal and state levels is one of the CSU’s biggest problems, but at the same time Söder benefits from it. Because there is no one who could pose a threat to the party leader or even lead an uprising against him. Söder did not cause this problem, but he also did nothing in his five years at the top to allow talent to emerge with independent positions.
On the contrary: No CSU leader has ever tailored the party to himself as much as Söder. His cabinet is colorless and lackluster, to which the Free Voters contribute as much as they can. The once powerful state parliamentary group has been a complete failure over the past five years, and things are no better in the Berlin state group. And if a critical voice arises in any committee meeting far away from Munich, Söder finds out about it immediately. The person concerned then often receives a message from Söder on their cell phone. Critics speak of a “brutal system of rule”.
Söder’s “brutal system of rule”: Stoiber’s CSU was different
Things were different in Stoiber’s time, who was also a control freak and used his state chancellery to influence everything. “Stoiber demanded that his most important ministers be present, visible and active at the federal level,” recalls former Finance Minister Kurt Faltlhauser, also one of the Old People’s Club. Faltlhauser had several tax reform concepts developed without first asking Stoiber’s permission. In the Söder cabinet, however, personal initiative is not required.
The fact that Söder, to his own satisfaction, remains firmly in one of the top places in the politician rankings hides the fact that his national political brilliance has significantly diminished. He was one of the most influential political figures during the corona pandemic, but now he seems to have little interest in hard work. At the Prime Minister’s Conference a few weeks ago, when the mega topic of migration was discussed, Söder said “almost nothing” and disappeared 20 minutes before the end of the meeting, according to the SPD camp. The spokesman for the Union-led states is now clearly NRW Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst.
Markus Söder makes headlines: “State crisis talk always benefits the wrong people”
Söder, on the other hand, puts more energy into producing short-term headlines. Sometimes he suggests that the Union should enter the government as a junior partner under Olaf Scholz, sometimes he calls for new elections together with the European elections next year, sometimes he paints a national crisis on the wall and thus provides the AfD with a clear template. “The talk of a state crisis always benefits the wrong people,” says political scientist Ursula Münch.
Incidentally, Söder’s call for new elections in the summer of 2024 has little to do with his concern for the country, but rather with his concern about the CSU result in the European elections. A look at the numbers shows how justified this concern is. European elections have often been difficult for the CSU. In 2019, the CSU got 40.7 percent, which corresponded to a nationwide share of 6.3 percent. But the leading candidate of the European conservatives was also CSU man Manfred Weber. His application was linked to the hope that Weber could become President of the EU Commission after the election. This provided a boost in the Bavarian homeland. He’s missing this time, the CSU fears bitter losses.
If it were to slip below the five percent mark in next year’s European elections, it would still be represented in the European Parliament because there is no threshold there. But it would be a disaster for the federal election a year later if the traffic light electoral law reform is upheld in the Federal Constitutional Court. And for Söder, probably the end of all dreams of becoming a chancellor. (By Peter Fahrenholz)
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