CDU in Rhineland-Palatinate: When opposition becomes permanent

As of: 10/28/2021 5:01 p.m.

Can the CDU recover as an opposition in the federal government in order to then reinvent itself? In the former stronghold of Rhineland-Palatinate, this was the experience. The party has been recovering there for 31 years.

When CDU member of the Bundestag, Johannes Steiniger, is touring the wine-growing villages of his native Rhineland-Palatinate these days, the 34-year-old has to listen to a lot. Steiniger is one of nine Christian Democrats who represent Rhineland-Palatinate in the new Bundestag.

The learned math teacher is depressed that the opposition bench is waiting for him there. “For those of you who now think you can relax in the opposition, I recommend you take a look at Rhineland-Palatinate,” he says. “We have been recovering for 31 years and are noticing what that also does with a structure and the staffing.” The same applies in the federal government as in the state: “We have to take care of the party. We have to make sure that people can enjoy party work again.”

Frustration at the grassroots level

Leaving and turning your back on the party is not an option, says Jutta Albrecht, chairwoman of the Trier Women’s Union. But at the women’s meetings, a lot of frustration can be heard from many members at the grassroots level. “We have to work more transparently, but a course correction, which we have been calling for for a long time, is simply not accepted. That makes us weary,” criticizes Albrecht.

And her colleague Christine Hild says: “I am of the opinion that a lot more grassroots participation is necessary, also in the CDU.” The weaknesses have been visible for a long time, says Elisabeth Ruschel. “We women were heard far too little,” complains the 75-year-old, who has been a CDU member for 45 years.

Rhineland-Palatinate: The SPD on the road to success

Rhineland-Palatinate used to be one of the core countries of the Christian Democrats. Helmut Kohl, Heiner Geißler and Bernhard Vogel had their political home here. In 1991 the SPD politician Rudolf Scharping succeeded in changing power. Since then, the Social Democrats have been in power in Rhineland-Palatinate. Today SPD Prime Minister Malu Dreyer leads a traffic light coalition with the FDP and the Greens, as it is currently being negotiated in the federal government.

“Malu Dreyer and her predecessor Kurt Beck are simply popular state politicians,” says Uwe Jun, Professor of Political Science at Trier University. “The CDU lacked a clear strategy as to how it could succeed in confronting the popular prime minister and viewing her critically. The party never succeeded in developing a clear counter-profile.” The opposition in federal politics would also have this task if there were traffic lights there, said Jun.

The CDU in Rhineland-Palatinate under Julia Klöckner tried to lift both Kurt Beck and Malu Dreyer out of office with votes of no confidence. Most recently it was about the failed sale of the Hunsrück airport Hahn, in which the state government fell for a dubious Chinese buyer. But instead of agreeing to the CDU, the FDP stood behind Dreyer and the continuation of the traffic lights.

Resignation of the state chairman

Already after the election defeat in the state elections in March of this year, it was said in Mainz that there should be no “business as usual”. After the general election – and her entry into the Bundestag – party leader Klöckner announced her retirement as state chairwoman.

For a long time, Klöckner managed to bring the conflicting wings of traditionalists and modernizers together, says Jun. “A step that the federal CDU should force.” According to the political scientist, differences have broken out again for a number of years, “because Ms. Klöckner’s party base felt that she was not given enough consideration in her decisions, especially when it came to questions about candidates.” Klöckner spoke out in favor of Armin Laschet, while the base preferred Friedrich Merz and Markus Söder.

Problem: New tip

Shortly after Klöckner’s announcement, her vice and parliamentary group leader, Christian Baldauf, announced that he wanted to take over the office together with a team. Is that what a political innovation looks like? No, think the Trier Union women. “Not with Christian Baldauf at the top.”

Other base members can imagine Baldauf – at least temporarily. “In any case, the base must have the feeling of being more involved again; this can also be done via the district chairperson, if they obtain a vote from their base beforehand,” says Politics Professor Jun.

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