Trans-Europe Express – Indomitable, but for how long?

Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soeder attends a cabinet meeting in Munich on 13 March 2018. [EPA/ LUKAS BARTH]

One region in Germany, that of the indomitable CSU-Bavarians, is holding out. In Bavaria, Markus Söder is brewing up the magic potion and he is setting forth to repel the invaders from non-EU countries. And to do so, he does not hesitate to put the entire EU in jeopardy.

At the EU Summit, Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel summed up the current political turmoil on migration on Thursday (28 June) in a very clear wording: “It cannot be that some Bavarian party decides how Europe has to operate. Even Mister Seehofer [Germany’s Interior Minister and CSU leader] can understand that.”

Commenting for EURACTIV the current German political jigsaw, Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at the Free University Berlin, explained that the CSU created a conflict to profile itself because of the upcoming election in Bavaria, one of the wealthiest Länder in Germany, bordering Austria.

“Horst Seehofer is under pressure in Bavaria as, according to the latest poll, the CSU will not get the absolute majority. This is of key importance for the CSU as it is striving to affirm itself as the only voice in Bavaria,” Neugebauer said. 

And added: “What the CSU is saying is that ‘we in Bavaria do the rules for Germany’, which, as a ripple effect, means they are doing the rules for Europe.”  

But the one who is pulling the Bavarian strings is not CSU leader Horst Seehofer but 51-year old Markus Söder, minister-president of Bavaria, who is little known outside Germany. 

“Markus Söder is a politician who doesn’t have any political experience at the national level, he never has had a mandate outside Bavaria,” explained Neugebauer. 

“He has a provincial way of seeing things, yet he managed to create political convulsions that were felt all the way to Brussels,” he said. 

However, the dispute is also a power struggle for domination in German politics, the political scientist argued.

“The CSU is in a permanent conflict with Angela Merkel. The dispute is not about migration policy per se, it is a conflict between people,” Neugebauer said, adding the CSU is hoping to emerge as the winner in the confrontation with  Merkel.

He said Seehofer had accentuated the conflict with Germany’s chancellor ever since 2015, at the height of the refugee wave, by meeting with Hungary’s Viktor Orban.  

Söder is now taking the lead by adding a large amount of fuel to the fire. According to the German newspaper Die Welt, the CSU is not planning any campaign appearances with Angela Merkel during the Bavarian electoral campaign. Instead, the Bavarians are planning to invite Austria’s conservative chancellor Sebastian Kurz. 

“There won’t be a female chancellor coming to my final speech, but there will be a male chancellor,” Söder was quoted as saying. 

Since he took over the state premiership from Horst Seehofer last March, Söder has kept denigrating Merkel’s migration policy. In a controversial interview with ZDF, Söder accused the Chancellor of having taken “a unilateral national decision to open up the borders” when she decided to accept refugees fleeing war-ridden areas.  

Not only does Markus Söder keeps criticising Merkel’s migration policy, not only does he openly express his skepticism about the EU’s ability to a common ground on migration, but he does not hesitate to use the same language as the far-right AfD. 

Only, Söder’s AfD-like rhetoric is not paying off. On the contrary. According to Forsa, only 40%  of respondents plan to give the CSU their votes in October. That’s 7.7% less than in the previous Bavarian election four years ago — and far from the level Söder needs to keep his party’s absolute majority and advance his own political career. 

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By Freya Kirk

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Views are the author’s

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