CDU wins in the European elections: the resurrection of the CDU

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Written By Maya Cantina

The Union will be the strongest force in the European elections. For party leader Friedrich Merz, this is a new step on the road to becoming a candidate for chancellor.

Friedrich Merz on election night in front of a lectern, surrounded by applauding party friends, seems very satisfied

He has a good laugh: CDU party leader Friedrich Merz speaks on election night in the Konrad-Adenauer-Haus in Berlin Photo: Fabian Sommer/dpa

There is a lot at stake for Friedrich Merz this Sunday. For the CDU leader, his party is now in phase three of its resurrection after the federal election debacle. After taking on the opposition role in the Bundestag and reorganizing the content through the party’s new basic program, it is now about power: phase three, that is the battle for the chancellery. The European elections are the first national voting test.

When Merz stood on the stage of the party headquarters shortly after half past six on Sunday, surrounded by members of the federal executive committee, he appeared visibly satisfied. “The CDU and CSU won the European elections together with Ursula von der Leyen,” says Merz. And: “This is a good day for the Union.”

According to initial forecasts, the CDU and CSU are clearly the strongest forces and received around 30 percent of the votes, a significant increase compared to the federal elections and also slightly more than in the last European elections. CDU Secretary General Carsten Linnemann then immediately demands a significant change of course from the traffic lights – or new elections. Friedrich Merz came a little closer to his candidacy for chancellor tonight.

The CDU leader had to tie his fate to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who, to put it mildly, is not particularly close to him within the party. Merz was critical from the start of the Green Deal for climate protection, which von der Leyen described as “Europe’s man on the moon moment” and subsequently watered down. But Von der Leyen is flexible. In order to be nominated by the CDU as the leading European candidate of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) and in view of the majority necessary for her re-election, she made concessions. “This election campaign is one of the best things I have experienced so far in my political life,” she said during a TV debate in the European Parliament. She has never felt closer to Europeans.

Von der Leyen’s image and reality
Friedrich Merz, party leader of the CDU

“This is a good day for the Union.”

Contrary to the trend in Germany, there are no major gains to be made at EU level for the European People’s Party and its top candidate Von der Leyen. According to initial estimates by ARD and ZDF, the EPP could get around 180 of the 720 seats in the new European Parliament. But that would be no more than in the 2019 elections, when CSU politician Manfred Weber ran for the Conservatives.

During her appearances in the election campaign, Von der Leyen cultivated the image of the successful crisis manager. A video shows them in a modern war bunker in Finland. She praises the work of the Finns and promises to cultivate this mentality in Brussels. However, the balance of her work is not as rosy as she likes to claim. The Green Deal is on the brink after five years. China and the US have overtaken Europe in promising green technologies. Moreover, the European economy is hardly growing anymore. The internal market must be completely overhauled, demands the former head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi.

And Von der Leyen’s re-election as Commission President will not be easy either. According to all predictions from Sunday evening, the EPP will emerge from the elections as the strongest faction. But Von der Leyen must first be nominated by European heads of state and then secure an absolute majority in parliament.

Cooperation with right-wing populists

The support of social democrats and liberals will probably not be sufficient for this. That is why the CDU politician will, as she has already announced, speak with the right-wing populist parliamentary group EKR in addition to the Greens. Von der Leyen said she will work with anyone committed to Europe, Ukraine and the rule of law. This also includes the post-fascist Italian Fratelli d’Italia of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) warned Von der Leyen against relying on parties to the right of the EPP: “There should be no right-wing extremist and right-wing populist parties.” He threatened not to nominate Von der Leyen as German commissioner in this case. In parliament, not only the SPD, but also the Greens, Left and individual liberals want to deny Von der Leyen their vote if she does not clearly distance herself from the radical right. A scandal in the election of the head of the commission, scheduled for July, cannot be ruled out.

That would be a bitter setback for Merz. Von der Leyen is his only chance to put a Christian Democrat on the committee. The traffic light coalition agreement states: If the president is not German, the right to propose the committee position lies with the Greens.

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