This article deals with the political, programmatic, and organizational changes within the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) during the time of the second grand coalition (2005-present). For the CDU, the period of the grand coalition is a time of waiting concerning its organizational and programmatic reform processes. Thus, the election of 2009 will be crucial for the political development of the party—in respect to its political profile, as well as its strategic options within the political market.
The elections for the German Bundestag on 24 September 2017 saw heavy losses for the two governing parties—the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD)—and the rise of the rightpopulist Alternative for Germany (AfD). It took almost six months for a new grand coalition to be formed in light of the extremely fragmented parliament. Despite the good economic situation and relative calm domestically and internationally, much change is occurring under the surface. Most importantly, the country is preparing for the end of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s long tenure. Who and what will come next? Can the surging AfD be contained? Will Germany step up into the leadership role for which so many have called?
As chair of the CDU in 2000, and of its joint Bundestag caucus with the CSU in 2002, Angela Merkel was the fist woman and fist easterner to head a major German party; she had risen as a protege of Helmut Kohl, but breaking with him over his financial improprieties vaulted her into power. These features of her biography made her leadership unconventional. So too did her style, characterized by interpersonal reserve and lack of charisma. Merkel's views on cultural issues and economic policy-in particular, reform of the welfare state-were more liberal than those of her Union's mainstream. Finally, her resources within the CDU/CSU were limited to a loose network of younger outsiders, who helped sustain her against rivals at the Land level. While Merkel survived a poor CDU/CSU election in 2005 to become chancellor, her time as opposition leader suggested that she would struggle in that role too, yet also served as a caution against underrating her.
Four inter-related factors shaped the 2017 campaign of Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU: (1) ambivalence over her successful modernization of the CDU; (2) fallout from her 2015 refugee policy; (3) a party strategy that bred complacency while mobilizing skeptics; and (4) tactical miscalculations. Merkel’s CDU/CSU came in first, but suffered record losses, while the rightwing populist Alternative for Germany emerged as Germany’s third party. The campaign, its result and—with a fragmented and polarized party system— her need to build another grand coalition all seemed sure to fuel recrimi - nations within the CDU/CSU over identity, strategy, and personnel in a post Merkel era.
Contrary to many common expectations for a Grand Coalition, Chancellor Angela Merkel's 2005-2009 CDU/CSU-SPD government produced few major policy changes. Its modest output is generally attributed to polarized competition between two co-equal, longtime rivals that blocked cooperation. Yet, interparty gridlock was less decisive than intraparty paralysis. The CDU, CSU, and SPD formed a government at the very time when each was plagued by internal divisions over programmatic identity, fueled in turn by interrelated strategic and leadership struggles. The result was caution, confusion, patchwork measures, side payments and reversals.
The Social Democrats at the Crossroads
Andreas M. Wüst
With a vote share of just 20.5 percent, the Social Democrats’ (SPD) 2017 Bundestag election result was a disaster. Despite initially deciding not to continue the Grand Coalition (GroKo), when negotiations on forming a Jamaica coalition failed, the Social Democrats found themselves back in coalition talks they never wanted. Although a strong minority of party members remained opposed, in the end the coalition agreement proved to be the best strategic alternative and is a Social Democratic success, especially concerning the level of social expenditures. In light of the election outcome, the success of the new GroKo is highly important for the coalition parties, as well as for Germany and its people.
The role of Konrad Adenauer in the proceedings of the Parliamentary Council in Bonn and his decision after his election as first federal chancellor not to form a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party paved the way to a fundamental transformation of the traditional German democratic paradigm versus the Anglo-Saxon concept of interaction between government and parliamentary opposition. The inherited pattern of constitutional democracy that had contributed to the structural weaknesses of Weimar parliamentarism was replaced by the concept of an interaction between government and opposition. Political parties took on the primary tasks of securing stable parliamentary majorities and providing sufficient electoral support for the chancellor. Adenauer's resolved political leadership, therefore, was an indispensable contribution to the reorientation of West German political culture from the former distrust of unrestricted parliamentary sovereignty toward Western democratic traditions.
Angelika von Wahl
For decades conservative welfare states have reformed reluctantly. To understand recent family policy reforms in Germany we must add institutions and economics to any account of politics. This article focuses on the grand coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD formed after the 2005 Bundestag election. Two opposed assumptions pertain to grand coalitions: one holds that a coalition of parties with different ideologies will act according to the lowest common denominator resulting in policy inertia. The opposite holds that grand coalitions enable policy change because constraints are removed by the supermajority. This article develops five conditions for successful reform, arguing that traditional family policies directed at the protection of motherhood are shifting towards reconciliation policies that emphasize labor market activation and increased birth rates. The shift indicates 1) that even conservative states have the potential for bounded reform; and, 2) that agency—particularly partisan and coalitional interests—needs to be considered more seriously.
In 2008 the first state-level CDU-Green coalition was formed in Hamburg. Drawing on the literature on party goals (vote-, office-, policy, internal cohesion- and democracy-seeking), this article examines the GAL's decisions to join and to end the coalition. It examines the trade-offs between party goals as they evolved in different phases of “schwarz-grün,” with particular reference to the Greens' education reform agenda. While policy- and vote-seeking complemented each other during the election campaign, vote-, office- and party unity-seeking conflicted with each other in the Greens' decision to enter a coalition with the CDU. Later, policy- and democracy-seeking conflicted with each other when a referendum organized by a citizens' initiative defeated the Greens' education reform, a defeat that contributed significantly to the premature end of the CDU-Green coalition. New elections led to defeats for vote-, office-, and policy-seeking when the SPD achieved an absolute majority.
The Rise of the AfD and its Implications for the CDU/CSU
In 2017, the AfD became the first party explicitly positioned to the right of the CDU/CSU to enter the Bundestag since 1957. As the AfD was founded by former CDU members and rose against the backdrop of Merkel’s European and refugee policies, the AfD may appear primarily to threaten the CDU/CSU. I argue that this view is overly simplistic. Analyzing the AfD’s platform, survey data, and factionalism, I find: (1) while the AfD started as a conservative challenger to the Christian Democrats, it moved away from this platform toward becoming a populist radical right party; (2) this transformation is reflected in its vote base, which includes characteristics associated with social conservatism but also encompasses nativist, populist, and even leftwing elements; (3) the AfD has so far been unable to integrate these different positions and stop forces pushing it away from being an option for discontented Christian Democrats.