German conservatives fear ‘polarisation’ over Merkel succession

The leader of Angela Merkel's party warned of a "polarising" election campaign Monday as Germany's conservatives prepared for fresh talks over the bitter battle to succeed the chancellor at upcoming elections.

German conservatives fear 'polarisation' over Merkel succession
Armin Laschet talking on Monday. Photo:D PA

“We know from the USA what it means to have polarised election campaigns, and we know how long it took and is taking a new president to once again reconcile the country,” said Armin Laschet, leader of the Christian Democratic
Union (CDU).

“We should spare ourselves that in Germany,” he added.

Laschet, who is state premier of Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, has been locked in a power struggle against his Bavarian challenger Markus Soeder, leader of the CSU party, over who will lead the conservatives into general elections on September 26th.

Overnight talks in Berlin between the two men on Sunday evening produced no result, fuelling speculation that the candidacy issue may be settled by a vote amongst parliamentarians from the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU,
on Tuesday.

On Monday, Laschet announced further talks among his party’s leadership, while Soeder made a thinly veiled call for the larger CDU to back him as the more popular candidate.

Broad backing

Söder, who declared his bid for the job a week ago, on Monday repeated his promise to step aside “without resentment” if the CDU nominated Laschet.

Yet having refused to back down when the CDU leadership came out in support for Laschet last week, the 54-year-old said he was ready to take the job if he had “broad backing” from the CDU.

“Broad backing means when the board, parliamentary group and rank and file all want it,” he added.

“It is important to respect the members, the MPs and the population in general,” said Söder, noting that he had received support for his candidacy from the wider public.

A recent poll by public broadcaster ARD showed 44 percent of Germans in favour of Söder as most qualified as the CDU-CSU’s chancellor candidate.

Laschet only had 15 percent of support.

Yet Söder also said that he would accept a decision from the CDU if it favoured Laschet.

“We don’t want to and we won’t see a rift between the CSU and the CDU,” he insisted.

READ MORE: Merkel’s conservatives fail to reach deal on who will be chancellor candidate

Surging Greens

Divisions in the conservative camp were further underlined on Monday as the Greens – who are polling second behind the CDU-CSU – announced co-chair Annalena Baerbock as their candidate at a slick press event with no signs of strife within the centre-left party.

Congratulating Baerbock on the nomination, Laschet promised a “fair election campaign” and urged parties to be “respectful” of each other in a veiled warning to Söder.

The CSU leader struck a more combative note, saying that he disagreed with the Greens’ “core ideology” when it came to social and economic policy.

Laschet said he had also invited Söder to Monday’s talks, yet the Bavarian said he would not be able to make it back to Berlin in time to take part.

“We need to talk to each other a lot in these days. The aim is that the CDU-CSU wins the elections, and that can only happen if we are together,” said Laschet.

Member comments

  1. I fail to see how any of this is polarising, seeing as it´s just two different conservative candidates from sister party´s. Perhaps the article title should more correctly read: German conservatives fear change.

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Turkish support in Germany for Erdogan fuels integration debate

Strong backing for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan among Turks in Germany in last weekend's historic election has sparked renewed soul-searching about whether Berlin's attempts to integrate the minority are failing.

Turkish support in Germany for Erdogan fuels integration debate

There were scenes of jubilation in some German cities after Erdogan extended his two decade rule in Sunday’s runoff vote, with cars decked out with flags driving through the streets and honking.

Germany — home to the world’s biggest Turkish community overseas — had about 1.5 million registered voters in the polls, and Erdogan received some 67 percent of votes cast.

That is far above the 52 percent share of the vote Turkey’s longest-serving leader garnered at home, where he had to overcome strong competition from secular challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

That so many voters in a liberal European democracy opted for a ruler frequently accused of pursuing increasingly authoritarian policies sparked fresh debate over Berlin’s integration policies.

Most of those celebrating Erdogan’s victory in Germany “were born here, went to school here, enjoy freedom and prosperity, but consider the ‘West’ the realm of evil,” read a commentary piece in conservative daily the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

“It is a truism that is now being echoed from left to right — something is going wrong with integration in Germany.”

READ ALSO: Are Germany’s Turkish voters more likely to back Erdogan?

The results fed into a political row on a plan by the coalition government, led by the left-leaning SPD, to ease the path to gaining German citizenship and make it easier to become a dual citizen, which is almost impossible under current rules.

“After this Turkish election, the (coalition) should finally have understood: ‘turbo naturalisation’ and dual citizenship for all are the wrong way,” Andrea Lindholz, a lawmaker from the right-wing CSU party told the Bild tabloid.

But Islam expert Ahmad Mansour argued the result should not stop the rules on dual citizenship being changed — as most of those who voted only held Turkish citizenship and were banned from having two passports.

‘Emotional approach’

Erdogan’s success in Germany was helped in large part by well-organised, and well funded overseas organisations, said Gokay Sofuoglu, chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany, which advocates for greater rights for those of Turkish origin.

“Of course, they can mobilise a lot of people,” he told AFP.

Erdogan was presented as a strong, successful leader in a way that would appeal to Turks in Germany, many of whom are descended from so-called “guest workers” who arrived under an economic programme in the 1960s and ’70s, and hailed from rural, conservative communities.

READ ALSO: Turks in Germany hope for citizenship law overhaul

Turkish flag Berlin Kottbusser Tor

A Turkish flag hangs from a balcony near Berlin’s Kottbusser Tor. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

While many Turks in modern-day Germany have high levels of education, good jobs and decent incomes, critics say some can still feel disillusioned by relatively low levels of participation in politics and civil society.

In contrast to Erdogan’s “emotional approach” to the Turkish community in Europe’s most populous country, Germany appeared to have little to offer, said Eren Guvercin, a Turkish journalist living in the country.

Those who are not seeking to develop “counter-offers” to build up “emotional access” to Turks in Germany, “should not be surprised that Erdogan fills this gap,” he added.

‘Conservative attitudes’

As Germany sought to get back on its feet after World War II, hundreds of thousands of Turks came over to work in industries ranging from construction to car-making.

Times were often tough for the newcomers, many of whom earned lower salaries than Germans and lived in low-quality housing. But many stayed and brought family members over, and are now an integral party of society.

Germany is home to about three million people of Turkish origin, although many hold only German citizenship, due to the current ban on dual nationalities for migrants from non-EU states.

Turkish election polling station Germany

A polling station in Hannover displays a Turkish flag during the Turkish elections. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

Despite the worries triggered by the weekend election results, some argue that the backing for Erdogan in Germany should not ring alarm bells.

Many of the best integrated Turks have in fact taken on German nationality over the years, which excluded them from the vote, observers note.

The result also fits with a trend of strong support for the leader among Turks in other parts of Europe where, as in Germany, migrant communities originally came from rural communities, Yunus Ulusoy, from the Centre for Turkish Studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen, told AFP.

READ ALSO: Turkish diaspora voters head to the polls in Germany

“They brought conservative, religious attitudes with them to the countries where they migrated,” he said.

In countries like the United States and Britain, where Turkish migrants usually hail from more affluent backgrounds, the opposition typically performs better, he added.

By Sam Reeves