Print Читать на русском
Region: Russia, Europe
Type: Articles
Rate this article
(votes: 1, rating: 5)
 (1 vote)
Share this article
Vladimir Morozov

Program Manager at the Russian International Affairs Council

For the first time in 18 years, Germany’s ruling party — the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) — has a new leader. On December 7, former Minister President of the Saarland and General Secretary of the CDU Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was elected the new leader at the party congress in Hamburg after Angela Merkel officially stepped down from the post.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s victory means that Germany will be able to survive the next three years without any major issues. On the other hand, in that period, the new leader of the CDU will not only have to forge a new image for herself and for her party in order to offer voters something more than “continuity” in 2021, but she will also have to work out solutions to a number of sensitive issues.

Kramp-Karrenbauer has spoken rather harshly about the fact that Germany and the European Union should respond to the incident on the Kerch Strait and close European borders to all Russian ships assigned to the ports of the Sea of Azov. While she does not deny the need for dialogue with Russia, she stresses that such a dialogue should not be an end in itself, and that the restoration of relations between Russia and the West depends primarily on Russia. However, unlike the conservative Friedrich Merz, she did not go as far as to criticize Nord Stream 2.

If she becomes Chancellor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will rely far more on her colleagues from the Office of the Federal Chancellor and the Federal Foreign Office, as well as on third-party expertise. As a result, Russia–Germany relations will become more dependent on which politicians and experts are in the new chancellor’s team.

The composition of the new ruling coalition following the next parliamentary elections will be another key variable in the equation for Russia–Germany relations. The CDU/CSU grouping will likely retain its leadership, but difficulties in choosing a coalition partner are inevitable. Given the fall in the popularity of the social democrats, a new coalition between the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) is unlikely to succeed. An alliance with the Alternative for Germany is impossible, and the prospects for the Free Democratic Party (FDP) are dim.

This is why the Green party, which is known for its scepticism of Russia’s foreign and domestic policies, will almost certainly be the only possible partner for Kramp-Karrenbauer. Russia–Germany relations will effectively become hostage to Germany’s domestic policies, which will lead to a further cooling between the two countries.

At the same time, given the importance of the personality of the leader of Germany’s biggest political power, its influence on Russia–Germany relations should not be overestimated. Russia has long ceased to be a top foreign policy priority for Germany. Despite the extensive business contacts and the growing trade turnover, even under the sanctions, Germany’s foreign policy is primarily aimed at maintaining and deepening integration within the European Union.

For the first time in 18 years, the ruling party in Germany — the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) — has a new leader. On December 7, former Minister President of the Saarland and General Secretary of the CDU Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was elected the new leader at the party congress in Hamburg after Angela Merkel officially stepped down from the post.

Kramp-Karrenbauer’s victory was to be expected to some degree, although it was by no means a given, as has been the case in past CDU chairperson elections. For the first time in a long while, the race for the key post in the party turned out to be a close-fought affair, and truly gripping. Kramp-Karrenbauer only emerged victorious following the second round of voting, winning 52 per cent of the ballots, beating out her main rival, the conservative Friedrich Merz, who received 48 per cent of the votes.

In terms of their significance, these elections can only be compared with the September 2017 elections to the Bundestag. The new chairperson of the CDU will have to solve a number of issues, from restoring unity within the party, which is losing its popularity, to forging her own political image throughout the country and preparing herself for the post of federal chancellor.

AKK or “Mini Merkel”?

To many observers, Kramp-Karrenbauer’s positions seemed far less solid than those once enjoyed by her mentor. In 2000, Merkel was elected chairperson of the CDU after receiving 95 per cent of the votes at the party congress. And this despite the fact that the party was in the opposition back then, and she was essentially the one responsible for the resignation of Helmut Kohl, the political father of the reunified Germany, and of the Chancellor herself.

The party was in much better shape during the recent elections to the position of party chairperson, yet Kramp-Karrenbauer was only barely able to defeat Friedrich Merz. Many seriously believed that Merz, a successful businessman, implacable opponent of Merkel and big business stooge who had promised to return the CDU to its traditional role of conservative right-wing party, would take over the reins of the party. But Kramp-Karrenbauer received the endorsement of Angela Merkel, and this could very well have been key to her victory. After all, despite all the criticism levied at her, Merkel is still considered the de facto leader of the party.

Now Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has to develop her own image as a federal politician, because her opponents and detractors insist on talking about her as a “mini-Merkel” or “Merkel 2.0.”

This is to a certain extent justified, as Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer chose “continuity” as the slogan of her party leadership, opening herself up for criticism both from the Left (Die Linke) and the Alternative for Germany (AfD), as well as from the conservative wing of the CDU itself. However, despite the similarities in the political styles of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Angela Merkel, there are some serious differences.

Kramp-Karrenbauer is in a position to build a more traditional image for the conservatives. Her background (she was born in West Germany, and Angela Merkel was born in German Democratic Republic), profound religiousness and commitment to family values definitely work in her favour here. Kramp-Karrenbauer has not always supported the positions of the former chancellor. For example, she was sceptical about same-sex marriage and proposed stricter migration laws. Together with the right team, the proper use of these factors will help Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer move out of the Merkel’s shadow and become a politician in her own right.

Another equally important task for Kramp-Karrenbauer will be to fix the split that has appeared within the CDU, and on a broader scale, tackle the crisis of the German party system as a whole. Angela Merkel is seen as the strongest political leader in Europe. She has been in power for 13 years, during which time she has led the country through various crises, from the debt and migration crises to the situation in Ukraine and Brexit. However, the CDU itself paid the greatest price during the Merkel era. Since 2005, the Christian Democrats have gone from right-wing conservatives to centrists, to the point where they are almost indistinguishable from the Social Democrats. This resulted in a number of conservative politicians leaving the party for a new federal force, the Alternative for Germany, and they took a large number of voters with them.

The CDU’s allies in the ruling bloc (the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, CSU) and their large coalition partners (the Social Democratic Party of Germany, SPD) are also losing popularity, with people turning to parties with a more pronounced position, primarily the Greens and the AfD. The CDU thus risks losing even more support if it continues along its centrist course.

This is why the position of the conservative Merz was so strong as temporary disappointment with Kramp-Karrenbauer’s victory was so great. Many observers thought that a turn from the centre towards its roots (right-wing conservatism) would allow the CDU to regain the support of the conservatives and attract a number of nationalist voters. Kramp-Karrenbauer somehow needs to take these wishes into account and try to build relations with the conservatives within her own party.

The New Chairperson of the CDU and Germany

The election of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in the elections for the leader of the CDU is likely a blessing for the German political system, as well as for the country as a whole. Kramp-Karrenbauer has a good relationship with the incumbent chancellor, meaning that the ruling coalition, which proved extremely difficult to form in the first place, will remain untouched. Accordingly, Angela Merkel’s government will also remain, as she has made it clear that she is prepared to stay on as chancellor until the 2021 elections.

Had Friedrich Merz been elected chairperson of the CDU, he would probably have tried to remove the Chancellor from the position, as he has still not forgiven Merkel for expelling him from the party, which would have caused a crisis within the ruling coalition. Germany would then have had to hold new parliamentary elections, the results of which would have been almost impossible to predict.

Popularity is waning among all members of the ruling coalition (the CDU/CSU, SDP), while that of the Greens and the Alternative for Germany is growing. This means that early elections would have led either to the formation of a black-green coalition (between the CDU/CSU and the Greens) or to a government crisis with unpredictable consequences.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s victory means that Germany will be able to survive the next three years without any major issues. On the other hand, in that period, the new leader of the CDU will not only have to forge a new image for herself and for her party in order to offer voters something more than “continuity” in 2021, but she will also have to work out solutions to a number of sensitive issues.

The most pressing issue right now is that of migration policy. Kramp-Karrenbauer acknowledges the importance of open borders, but at the same time calls for increasing control over migration flows and acceleration the expulsion of those who have been denied asylum in Germany.

Germany and Russia

The candidates for the CDU leadership also paid due attention to the topic of Russia. Kramp-Karrenbauer has spoken rather harshly about the fact that Germany and the European Union should respond to the incident on the Kerch Strait and close European borders to all Russian ships assigned to the ports of the Sea of Azov. While she does not deny the need for dialogue with Russia, she stresses that such a dialogue should not be an end in itself, and that the restoration of relations between Russia and the West depends primarily on Russia. Unlike Merz, however, she did not go as far as to criticize Nord Stream 2.

The continuity declared by Kramp-Karrenbauer means that relations between Russia and Germany will continue to develop exclusively along the lines of economic cooperation, limited by sanctions pressure, with some progress possible in civil society contacts. However, there are two factors connected with Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer which will no doubt affect relations between the two countries.

Despite the harsh and relentless sanctions pressure on Russia as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, Angela Merkel, if she really does not see herself as the main specialist on Russia in Berlin and the West, at least has her own opinion on Russia’s domestic and foreign politics — not least thanks to her background and knowledge of Russian. What is more, while Merkel and Putin may not particularly like each other, they have been able to build good working relations over the years.

If she becomes Chancellor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will rely far more on her colleagues from the Office of the Federal Chancellor and the Federal Foreign Office, as well as on third-party expertise. As a result, Russia–Germany relations will become more dependent on which politicians and experts are in the new chancellor’s team.

The composition of the new ruling coalition following the next parliamentary elections will be another key variable in the equation for Russia–Germany relations. The CDU/CSU bloc will likely retain its leadership, but difficulties in choosing a coalition partner are inevitable. Given the fall in the popularity of the social democrats, a new coalition between the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) is unlikely to succeed. An alliance with the Alternative for Germany is impossible, and the prospects for the Free Democratic Party (FDP) are dim.

This is why the Green party, which is known for its scepticism of Russia’s foreign and domestic policies, will almost certainly be the only possible partner for Kramp-Karrenbauer. Russia–Germany relations will effectively become hostage to Germany’s domestic policies, which will lead to a further cooling between the two countries.

At the same time, given the importance of the personality of the leader of Germany’s biggest political power, its influence on Russia–Germany relations should not be overestimated. Russia has long ceased to be a top foreign policy priority for Germany. Despite the extensive business contacts and the growing trade turnover, even under the sanctions, Germany’s foreign policy is primarily aimed at maintaining and deepening integration within the European Union. It is this desire to preserve the unity of the European Union that will shape Germany’s policy towards Russia in the future.

Originally published on the Carnegie Moscow Centre website.

Rate this article
(votes: 1, rating: 5)
 (1 vote)
Share this article

Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
 
For business
For researchers
For students