CDU/CSU seek new ‘climate man’ as Greens rise in polls

So far, (at least) four people have been competing to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU). But they all have very different views on the direction that the Union's environmental policy should take. EPA-EFE/MICHELE TANTUSSI

Germany’s conservative CDU/CSU Union has admitted to its own shortcomings when it comes to climate policy and is now searching for a new chairman and candidate for the chancellor’s spot, which will shape the union’s course on environmental policy. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Looking at the latest opinion polls, it would appear that the coronavirus crisis has helped the CDU/CSU Union, as 36% of those surveyed would currently vote for them, almost 10% more than shortly before the outbreak of the pandemic.

But one year before the upcoming federal elections, the Greens are gaining unprecedented popularity – they are currently Germany’s second most popular party with 19% of support, which makes them an attractive coalition partner for the Christian Democrats.

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Finance Minister Olaf Scholz will lead the German Social Democrats (SPD) into the campaign for federal elections in 2021. Not an easy task for a party that faces strong competition from the Greens for number two position, behind the CDU/CSU conservatives. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Whether and how a black-green coalition (CDU/CSU and Greens) would be conceivable would also depend on which candidate the Union would choose for the chancellorship.

For the time being, the CDU will agree on a new party leader at its party conference in December – the question regarding who should be the candidate for chancellorship will only be addressed afterwards, probably in January.

So far, (at least) four people have been competing to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU). But they all have very different views on the direction the Union’s environmental policy should take

Söder, the Union’s new ‘climate man’

First, there is Norbert Röttgen, who was Germany’s environment minister from 2009 to 2012, when the chancellor dismissed him from office because of his election campaign in North Rhine-Westphalia that ran into a wall.

However, Röttgen gives climate protection a decisive role in the election campaign – above all as a means of winning voters.

“If I am in favour of a better climate policy. I want to credibly convey to all those voters who are not yet sure whether they will vote for the CDU or the Greens that we have understood that climate protection is a fateful topic and an integral part of the CDU’s programme”, Röttgen told local daily newspaper Neue Westfälische on Thursday.

This does not sound like a call to form a coalition, but rather a declaration of war.

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In a position paper, Germany’s conservative CDU/CSU parliamentary group opposed increasing the EU’s climate target to 55% by 2030. While this has been the cause for much criticism from other parties, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats do not believe this contradicts her words. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Greater bonding ability with the Greens is often attributed to North Rhine-Westphalia’s Prime Minister Armin Laschet, who is trying to take a confident line in his state.

But Uwe Jun, a political scientist at the University of Trier, told EURACTIV Germany Laschet will not be running for the highest office and could “possibly even give up” the spot for Markus Söder, if this were to be desired within the party.

The situation would be different with Friedrich Merz, according to Jun, as Merz would still be able to count on a conservative circle of support within the CDU. Two years after losing to current CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, he is venturing back into the race for the party chairmanship.

However, Merz is not the CDU’s number one man when it comes to environmental policy. He had welcomed the climate package negotiated last September, but the youth protesting against climate change had gone too far for him.

Many of their demands went “against our liberal way of life, in order to destroy the market economy”, he wrote in an article for Germany weekly, Welt am Sonntag.

Merz is relying above all on the power of the market, for example in the form of the EU’s emissions trading scheme, rather than regulatory instruments, and opposes what he calls further bans, paternalism and state requirements in climate protection.

According to current surveys, the candidate with the best chances of success is by far Bavaria’s current State Premier, Markus Söder, who has long shown his green side to the outside world, as he has already called for an earlier-than-planned coal phase-out and a general ban on plastic bags.

Söder promised that Bavaria would become Germany’s first climate-neutral federal state, though it remains to be seen how technically feasible such a feat will be. For Söder, it is also a matter of reversing the bitter losses to the Greens (190,000 votes) in the last state elections.

German Christian Democrats and Social Democrats slip up on climate protection issue

Climate protection played a central role in the results of the European elections. But German Christian Democrats and Social Democrats admit to not having sufficiently appropriated the climate protection issue. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Söder intends to stand for a climate-oriented CDU/CSU. “The Union knows that it will not be able to score points against the Greens on environmental policy. But Markus Söder has nevertheless shown how to skillfully change his rhetoric and still be on top. This is likely to be much more difficult for Friedrich Merz,” political scientist Jun said.

Despite internal resistance, the CDU will not reject a coalition with the Greens, according to Jun.

“The majority in the CDU is made of realists. The conservative and economic-liberal part of the party is certainly not Green-friendly, but in the end, they will do everything to govern,” he added.

However, though Söder states that climate protection was even invented by the CDU/CSU, Jun does not consider it advisable to make climate policy too much one’s own. “This would only strengthen the Greens, whose core competence this is,” said the political analyst.

The party conference in December could give an initial indication of how strongly environmental policy will shape the Christian Democrats’ election campaign.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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