Anxious of losing its absolute majority in the next Bavarian election, the CSU is venturing into the territory of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). Unfortunately, rejecting Emmanuel Macron’s EU reform plans is part of that strategy, and it’s pushed Angela Merkel to take a vow of silence on the EU’s future once again.
In a sign of the times, as of 1 June, all administrative building in Bavaria will have to display a crucifix. Markus Söder, the newly nominated and power-hungry Bavarian leader, argued that the crucifix is not a religious symbol but an “affirmation of Bavaria’s identity and cultural character”.
But the Brussels bubble has taken it seriously. Actually, not only the crucifix issue but the whole Bavarian political discourse. Why?
“Right now, Emmanuel Macron is standing alone under the rain with his EU reform plans, waiting for Angela Merkel to open the door and let him in. But she won’t do anything until the Bavarian elections are over,” a high-ranking EU official explained to EURACTIV.
“The question is, how long can he stay under the rain like this without getting rusty, and getting opposition to his EU plans in France as well,” he said.
Elections in Bavaria will take place on 14 October. The CSU has the absolute majority in the state parliament and is trying hard to keep it that way, so hard that it does not shy away from using the crucifix.
The stakes are high in this deeply conservative Catholic state where the CSU has ruled for decades with next to no opposition. Between 1962 and today, the CSU has lost its absolute majority only once, from 2008 to 2013.
But the surge of the AfD has reshuffled the political cards. The 2017 election was a game changer and a major breakthrough for the party.
After securing representation in 14 of the 16 German state parliaments, the AfD became the third-largest party in Germany after the 2017 federal election, claiming 94 seats in the Bundestag.
Not only was it the first time the AfD had won any seats in the Bundestag but it was the first time that a Eurosceptic party became the largest opposition party in the Bundestag.
According to the polls, the CSU is standing at 44.5%, meaning it will lose its absolute majority but remain the strongest party.
The AfD currently hovers at around 12% and is almost certain to enter the Bavarian state parliament for the first time.
“The spectre of right-wing populism is enough to stifle any European ambition in the Union,” wrote Stefan Reinecke, a political correspondent for the German daily Tageszeitung. “Merkel did not offend Macron when he visited her in Berlin, but she also sent no signal showing that Germany supports any of Macron’s reform ideas”.
This fear of the AfD and the resulting political stiffness in Berlin has been rapidly translated into an assumption that the rest of Europe is using EU reform plans as a smokescreen to go after Germany’s money.
The Economic Council of the CDU, Merkel’s own party, could not make its concerns more clear. Here is what the influential political organ wrote in a so-called position paper:
“The proposals of Commission President Juncker and French President Macron focus on even more common liabilities, bureaucracy and centralism. Behind the melodious terms – EU finance ministers, eurozone budgets or EU unemployment insurance – stands nothing but a huge redistribution mechanism”.
“But more communitarisation and egalitarianism cannot and will not be strengthened by the monetary union. It will, on the contrary, deepen the divisions in Europe. Where national peculiarities and identities are increasingly being neglected, the discontent towards the European project will inevitably increase”.
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