“The race is not over yet”

Friedrich Merz, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Jens Spahn at the regional conference in Lubeck © Axel Heimken

A spirit of optimism in the CDU at the first round of interviews of the candidates for the party chairmanship. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Friedrich Merz and Jens Spahn presented themselves at the first of eight regional conferences. A balance sheet.

Interviewer: The federal party conference of the CDU will decide on 7. December in Hamburg on the new CDU chairmanship. Beforehand, the three candidates present themselves at eight regional conferences. The first took place on Thursday evening in Lubeck, with participants from Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. In the run-up the expression "reinvention of the CDU" has often been used. Did one notice something of it in the hall?

Christoph Strack (Deputy Head of Deutsche Welle's Capital City Studio): That was clearly noticeable. One simply notices that many members really feel something like a new beginning, also perhaps a conclusion. They realize that this personnel decision is also something of a directional decision. And that – for all their satisfaction with the political situation in the country – they still want something that will move the party forward in a new way.

There was an atmosphere in the hall that was very impressive. I have participated in many events in the field of politics. Rarely have I experienced something like this; with a mixture between serious silence, enthusiasm, almost also emotion. And that in a hall that was really overcrowded with 900 delegates and many journalists. That is, one notices that this party also gets involved in this – let's call it – competition and that they themselves are also eager to see what comes of it. What the CDU has set out to do with this series of eight events can work. That can perhaps bring the party together a bit more, irrespective of the personnel decision.

Interviewer: So are we now a little bit closer to the answer of who could take over the CDU presidency?

Strack: I would be cautious. The polls, which suggest that Kramp-Karrenbauer is leading just ahead of Friedrich Merz, do not confirm this directly. One notices, for example, when entering the hall and the welcome, that Kramp-Karrenbauer and Merz clearly receive the strongest applause. This could also be felt after the 10-minute speeches of each of the three at the beginning: The applause for Kramp-Karrenbauer had a good 40 seconds, for Friedrich Merz 30 seconds, for Jens Spahn then another 15 seconds. That's a clear difference.

But in the course of the evening, Jens Spahn also made quite a few points. So it's not that the race is over. The event was therefore not boring at all. It was also not just a matter of looking in each case: Who is clapping where. I spoke with several delegates who made it clear that it was not yet a matter of saying: We are in favor of one or the other.

Interviewer: Let's look at the handling of refugees: Chancellor Merkel said in the summer of 2015 "We can do it". Her possible successors are beginning to distance themselves from it. How was it received – also with regard to the question of fear of anti-Semitism, which can also come to Germany through refugees??

Strack: It was remarkable. The lot had decided that Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer should be the first of the three to address the assembly. And she was the only one to address the ie of refugees in her introductory remarks, surprisingly distancing herself from Angela Merkel and the course she has taken so far. Although she also had the approach of Merkel to say: "We must not talk about it forever", because – many delegates also share this – this topic could tear the CDU apart, as the topic Hartz IV occupies the SPD until today and tears it apart. So she said that we have to come to it in the spring that we look fundamentally "that what happened in the fall of 2015 must never happen again like that."She perhaps took the wind out of the sails of the two competitors, who did not respond at all.

In the course of the evening, however, it became clear that this basic ie of "domestic security" and "enforcement of the rule of law" is a real concern for all three candidates. Merz and Spahn were clearer than the secretary general. But it's probably the case that the grassroots perhaps want to hear more or expect even more.

The last questioner actually came to the conclusion that with the wave of refugees in 2015 – it was not an opening of the borders, but merely the permission that people were allowed to come to Germany without controls, which had already been the case de facto – massive anti-Semitism had also come to Germany.

All three candidates did not put this into perspective, but they did put it into perspective. And Friedrich Merz in particular made it clear that anti-Semitism could not be respected in Germany in any way, just like xenophobia. He made explicit reference to the fact that Germany, in terms of its structure and history, has a Christian, Jewish and occidental character. And that this is the framework to which everyone who wants to live in Germany must adhere. These are cornerstones that cannot be shaken. And it is now the task of education and of all those who work in this area to convey these values and to ensure that this approach continues to shape Germany.

At the very end, Jens Spahn, who had repeatedly touched on the subject of refugees during the past few days with clear criticism of Merkel, made it clear what this meant to him: to him, the figure of 200 refugees, which is now a possibility, was a very low one.000 immigrants or refugees expected to arrive in Germany each year is far too high. Because the country will not be able to cope. He pointed out that every lifestyle and way of life must continue to be possible in Germany without people having to be afraid – be it Jews who are afraid of anti-Semitism or other minorities who no longer feel comfortable in Germany. For this, he said, the state must take into account.

Spahn also pointed out that he is homosexual and accordingly also has experience with exclusion or with aggression. So it was not just a question of internal security that was being raised. But one also noticed that the question of an open society and the question of tradition resonated with all three of them.

The interview was conducted by Renardo Schlegelmilch.

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