‘CDU in weak position’: Merkel’s conservatives face crucial test in Germany’s regional elections

Angela Merkel's conservatives could face a far-right upset at key state polls on Sunday, the last big test of Germany's political mood before the first general election in 16 years not to feature the veteran chancellor.

 'CDU in weak position': Merkel's conservatives face crucial test in Germany's regional elections
Residents enjoying the sun in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Peter Endig

Surveys have placed the extreme-right AfD neck-and-neck with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, with a recent poll by the Bild daily even predicting the anti-immigration party will – for the first time – win a regional vote.

Victory for the AfD would be a devastating blow for the conservatives just four months ahead of Germany’s national election on September 26th, and could further weaken the already fragile standing of Merkel’s would-be successor Armin Laschet.

“The CDU is in a relatively weak position in the polls, as is Laschet,” said political scientist Hajo Funke of Berlin’s Free University.

“If it turns out that the AfD is slightly stronger than the CDU on Sunday, then there could be debates about personnel in the CDU, and thus a weakening of the entire situation of the CDU,” Funke said.

Merkel’s party has been a dominant force in Saxony-Anhalt for decades, topping all but one edition of state elections there since reunification in

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance

In 2016, the CDU scooped 30 percent, forming a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens. The AfD won 24 percent.

But the conservatives have taken a hammering in the polls as Merkel prepares to bow out, hurt by anger over the government’s pandemic management and a corruption scandal involving shady coronavirus mask contracts.

They are also reeling from a very public tug of war for the post of chancellor candidate between CDU chief Laschet and Markus Soeder, head of the smaller Bavarian sister party CSU.

Laschet, who prevailed in that battle but has since suffered dismal public approval ratings, faces his first real test in Sunday’s election.

‘Rude awakening’ 

Even if the AfD wins the vote in Saxony-Anhalt, the party will not be able to govern as all the other parties have ruled out forming an alliance with it.

But a win for the far-right party would still be a “rude awakening” for the CDU, as Laschet put it during an appearance on the campaign trail in Magdeburg last week.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a press conference in the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on May 21st, 2021. Michael Sohn / POOL / AFP

Although support nationally has stagnated at around 10 to 12 percent for the AfD in recent months, in Saxony-Anhalt – as in other former East German states – the party has long had a strong base of support.

Its recent move to style itself as the party bashing Merkel’s tough shutdown measures during the pandemic has also cemented its reputation as the anti-establishment party, attracting support beyond its core base of anti-immigration voters.

READ ALSO: Why are coronavirus figures so high in German regions with far-right leanings?

Losing to the AfD, whose leading candidate in the region is a relative unknown nationally, would be, as Spiegel magazine puts it, “a disaster” for

“Laschet urgently needs a success to rally the Union behind him for the national election campaign,” said the magazine.

“The last thing he would need is a renewed debate about the AfD within his party, which would become unstoppable in case of an election defeat in Saxony-Anhalt.”

READ ALSO: Meet Armin Laschet, the king of comebacks grasping for Merkel’s throne

‘Momentum from Berlin’

Meanwhile, the Greens, who are vying for top place nationally against Merkel’s conservatives, could also draw votes away from the CDU in

The party, which has traditionally struggled in the former East Germany, looks set to double its share of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt from 5 percent in 2016 to around 10 percent this time.

“It has been a very exciting election campaign for the Greens,” Sebastian Striegel, co-chair of the party in Sachsen-Anhalt, told AFP.

The party has benefited from “a lot of momentum from Berlin” with the nomination of chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock, according to Striegel.

The latest survey for Der Spiegel of who Germans would like to see as their next chancellor has Baerbock in the lead on 25 percent, with Laschet lagging behind on 22 percent.


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Germany says reforms ‘essential’ for Georgia’s EU membership

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Friday said Georgia must conduct reforms amid increasing concern over the Caucasus country's democratic record.

Germany says reforms 'essential' for Georgia's EU membership

Speaking in Tbilisi alongside her Georgian counterpart Ilia Darchiashvili, she said Germany was ready to help.

“I am in Georgia with a specific message: we want to see Georgia in the European Union,” she said in German, which was then translated into Georgian.

She stressed, however, that it was “essential that this country implements reforms so that Georgia can join the EU.”

“We will be supporting you along this path,” she added. “The door is open wide for Georgia to get EU candidate status.”

Last year, the EU deferred Tbilisi’s membership application — while granting candidacy to Ukraine and Moldova — saying Tbilisi must conduct reforms before it is put on a formal membership path.

READ ALSO: German Chancellor Scholz backs EU membership for Ukraine

This month, mass anti-government demonstrations shook Tbilisi as protesters accused the government of deviating from the country’s pro Western course.

Ahead of her arrival in Georgia, Baerbock said in a statement that “there can be no shortcuts and no concessions” over Tbilisi’s compliance with democratic standards.

She said she was “impressed” by the recent pro-EU rallies in Tbilisi, “where women and men were waving European flags.”

The youth-led protests erupted after parliament gave its initial backing to a bill on “foreign agents” similar to Russian legislation used to suppress dissent.

The legislation was dropped under pressure from the protests that saw police use tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds. 

The bill sparked strong international condemnation, adding to the mounting criticism from rights groups and Western capitals over Georgia’s democratic practices over the last year.

The move to EU membership is enshrined in Georgia’s constitution and supported by at least 80 percent of the country’s population, according to opinion polls.