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How Merkel’s CDU plans for half of key party posts to be filled by women

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) is planning for equal representation of women within the party, according to sources. Here's how and why.

How Merkel's CDU plans for half of key party posts to be filled by women
Members of the CDU leadership including party chair Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (third left) and Chanceller Angela Merkel next to her in November 2019. Photo: DPA

After lengthy negotiations, a commission in the centre-right CDU has proposed that an equal number of women and men fill posts in the group's leadership by 2025.

The plan on the proportion of women in party offices and seats provides for a gradual increase in the quota for governing bodies starting at the regional level. On January 1st, 2021, a quota of 30 percent for women is to apply, and in January 2023 a quota of 40 percent is to be met. At the beginning of 2025, the quota for women will be 50 percent.

The compromise came after 11 hours of tough negotiations by the CDU's Structural and Statue Commission, said DPA on Wednesday.

It's not set in stone yet: the plans on the binding quota have to be approved at the CDU's federal party conference in Stuttgart, scheduled for early December.

READ ALSO: 'How much do you earn?' New law tackles gender pay gap

Why is the party proposing this?

Although the top two jobs are held by women (the party's current leader is Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Merkel is Germany's first female Chancellor), women make up only a quarter of CDU members. This is something the party leadership wants to change and hopes introducing a quota will help.

Other parties in Germany, such as the Left Party, the SPD and Greens, which is led by a woman and man team of Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck, already hold similar policies.

The CDU plans will include similar rules in composing its lists for elections to the state, national and European parliaments.

READ ALSO: More men named 'Hans' than women in top government jobs

A system will also be put in place so that local party groups can report on their progress in increasing their share of women members.

What does it mean?

If passed, the regulation will apply to group elections of board members, such as deputy chairpersons and committee members, but not to individual elections of chairpersons, member representatives or treasurers at federal level.

It would only be possible to deviate from the women's quota if not enough women apply.

The commission also proposes to introduce a “political parental leave” (politische Elternzeit).

Having children should not be a problem to political commitment, the commission said. At all levels, from the local association to the federal executive board, the proposal would allow for parents to suspend posts for up to a year and then resume the post.

According to the proposal, parents should only be able to be voted out of office by a two-thirds majority during this period.

Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA

However, the plans are subject to approval at the CDU party conference. And there are already signs of resistance within the party against the idea which was put forward by CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

The CDU Economic Council questioned if a quota was needed given the strong representation of women at the top of the party.

“I wonder whether the CDU needs this debate on women's issues at all in view of a German Chancellor, an EU Commission President and currently still a party leader, as well as three out of five heads of its federal ministries in female hands,” the President of the CDU-affiliated association, Astrid Hamker, told newspaper the Passauer Neue Presse.

“To me, approaches such as that of Ms Merkel for the economy or that of Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer for the CDU seem rather over-motivated and unrealistic.”

Debate on status of CDU's lesbian and gay group

Part of Kramp-Karrenbauer's initiative is also a revaluation of the status of the Lesbian and Gay people in the Union (LSU) group. If the party leader gets her way, the LSU is to be put on an equal footing with the student union RCDS, which can introduce its own motions at party conventions.

However, the discussion about a clear status for the LSU was postponed to Wednesday morning after the debate during the night, DPA said.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Why the Greens are the real winners of Germany’s state elections

German state elections don't tell us everything about the public mood, but the past few votes have revealed some pretty clear winners and losers. While support for the SPD is flagging, the Greens are growing in stature by the day, writes Brian Melican.

Why the Greens are the real winners of Germany's state elections

It’s one of the peculiarities of Germany’s federal system that we’re almost never more than six months away from an election being held somewhere. Alongside the national elections (Bundestagswahl) usually every four years, each of the 16 states also hold ballots (Landtagswahl) on varying cycles; then there are local and mayoral elections, too. As such, rolling campaigning and more-or-less continuous election analysis are a part of life here: “What does Election X say about Government Y?” is a question you will always hear being asked somewhere.

Nevertheless, regional elections have a habit of clustering – and generally come at points when national governments would rather not have people poring over electoral data. And this year, after barely six months in office, Olaf Scholz’ novel tri-partite traffic-light coalition has already been faced with three regional elections – in Saarland (27th March), last week in Schleswig-Holstein (8th May), and yesterday in North-Rhine Westphalia (15th May). On a regional level, the popularity of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) has already been thoroughly tested. 

Understanding state elections

The key thing to remember about German regional elections are that they both are and aren’t about national politics. Firstly, here’s how they aren’t. At a basic level, these regional elections are simply about voters choosing a government to deal with state-level remits (mainly health, education, and housing). They will vote first and foremost on these issues.

Personality politics are also important: long-serving German state premiers frequently garner the unofficial honorific Landesvater or Landesmutter –  literally: ‘father/mother of the state’ – and benefit from high personal approval ratings, allowing them to withstand changes in mood at national level. So it is by no means infrequent for voters to return completely different parties in regional than at national elections. By way of example, while Olaf Scholz, SPD, remained a popular Landesvater figure in Hamburg, Merkel’s CDU still won more Hamburg votes at national elections.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Sunday’s state parliament vote in NRW is important for German politics

Then again, regional elections also are about national politics. That’s because they never take place in a vacuum (except for in Bavaria, of course, where everyone always votes CSU). Even the most beloved of state premiers faces an uphill struggle if their party is currently making a hash of things in Berlin. What is more, the larger and the more representative the Bundesland, the more results of its elections can show swings in voter mood which may be of national relevance.

The Greens’ slow ascent from their mid-2000s funk to their current swagger began in Baden-Württemberg: winning control of this state populated by 11 million people and many of Germany’s top industrialists showed that voters trusted them to be part of a government. That set the ball rolling and by the time of last year’s national election, the Greens were already in power in half of federal states. Incidentally, it is often overlooked that state governments make up the Bundesrat, the second chamber of parliament, which can accept or refuse laws made by the Bundestag. So shifts in power here can be of national relevance.

This dichotomy has the predictable effect that, in the aftermath of every Landtagswahl, the losing parties usually claim that it was simply a regional ballot with nothing to say about national politics while the winning parties play up the significance at federal level.

Olaf Scholz and Thomas Kutschaty

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) congratulates Thomas Kutschaty, SPD candidate in North Rhine-Westphalia, after the party wins 26.7 percent of the vote. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

An SPD disaster 

This is why it is very bad news for Olaf Scholz and the SPD that their only victory in spring 2022’s three Landtagswahlen was in dinky little Saarland, a state whose population is smaller than that of a major city like Cologne and whose local politics are so marked by rivalries and infighting as to have little-to-no relevance nationally. Despite winning an absolute majority in the regional parliament at Saarbrücken (a rare feat in proportional representation), there was no way the SPD could claim a national bearing – and, to its credit, didn’t try to do so either.

In Schleswig-Holstein, the SPD wasn’t expected to unseat the CDU’s Daniel Günther, a likeable and well-liked premier coming to the end of five years at the helm of a surprisingly successful Jamaica coalition with the Greens and the FDP. Here, too, the national relevance was relatively low: Schleswig-Holstein has only 3 million inhabitants and few large towns and cities. Nevertheless, losing over half its seats while the Greens and CDU gained by the same amount was not a good result for the SPD.

What was disastrous, however, was last night’s result in North-Rhine Westphalia. With a population the size of the neighbouring Netherlands (17 million) and everything from Germany’s largest urban conurbation down to isolated mountain regions, NRW is often considered a microcosm of the country as a whole. As something of a swing state, parties which succeed here often go on to win the next national election (if they aren’t already in government).

READ ALSO:

What is more, unlike in Schleswig-Holstein, NRW was the SDP’s to win. Until last year, its premier was the luckless Armin Laschet (remember him?), who plumbed popularity depths in his failed bid to become Chancellor. He then left a badly-damaged CDU-FDP administration to Hendrik Wüst, a successor whose profile, if he had one at all, was defined by various low-level corruption scandals (including a regrettable incident where he sold slots with the then-NRW premier, Jürgen Rüttgers, to high-paying commercial lobbyists…).

Hendrik Wüst (CDU)

Re-elected NRW state premier Hendrik Wüst (CDU) celebrates his victory. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

Even if Wüst proved to be an unexpectedly good campaigner and the SPD’s Thomas Kutschaty remained oddly faceless, the fact that Olaf Scholz himself got involved and that the SPD still ended up with its worst showing in NRW ever is nothing less than a serious defeat for both the Chancellor and his party – one which, in my view, underlines how Scholz has not yet lived up to expectations.

Nevertheless, he is in luck. Firstly, the electoral cycle means that this upset is occurring at the beginning of his term; there will be time to recover. Secondly, although Wüst gets first crack at forming a government, the Greens are his only real potential partner – and will take a lot of courting. NRW Greens are on the more left-wing end of the spectrum and will play the field, potentially trying to usher in a mini traffic-light coalition in Düsseldorf if it looks feasible later.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Scholz is already out of step with Germany – it’s time for a change of course

Growing support for Greens

So after the post-Merkel rout, the CDU has scored an important and much-needed victory, but harnessing it to get momentum nationally may yet prove difficult. Indeed, it’s the Greens who have come out of the last two weekends with a new swing in their step. Following a disappointing national election last year, they have once again hit their stride, due in no small part to the Ukraine reminding voters of why renewable energy is important on the one hand and the impressive figures cut by Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock in government on the other.

For the FDP, things are not looking so good. Despite negotiating a disproportionately high amount of their manifesto into last year’s agreement, they are suffering the fate of many a junior coalition partner: a lack of profile. On strictly regional terms, they lost votes to the popular Daniel Günther in Schleswig-Holstein (perhaps unavoidably, despite a good record as part of his coalition) and to the not-yet-popular Hendrik Wüst (following lacklustre performance in government in Düsseldorf).

Greens party posters NRW

Posters featuring Greens candidate Mona Neubaur highlight the link between fossil fuels and Russia’s authoritarian leadership. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Worryingly for Christian Lindner, however, this may be harbinger of history repeating itself. Essentially, FDP voters tend to get enthusiastic for a business-friendly go-getter type who promises to lower taxes and slash regulation, only to later turn their back on him when, once part of a coalition government, he proves unable to deliver the small-state free-for-all promised. That’s what happened to Guido Westerwelle in the 2009-2013 administration, in any case.

There is, however, one bit of unadulterated good news for all parties and indeed our country as a whole: the AfD lost vote share everywhere. The populist outfit didn’t even make it into parliament in Schleswig-Holstein and only just scraped in in NRW. It would seem that, in times of crisis, voters don’t want to add to the list of potential disasters by putting populists anywhere near power. This is a hypothesis we’ll be able to test in just under six months’ time, by the way, when Lower-Saxony goes to the polls on 9th October. 

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