On Monday, the conservatives took stock of their poor performance in this fall's elections. They admitted mistakes that led to their third-worst result ever, but spared party leader and new Chancellor Angela Merkel.
There was some fingerpointing going on after the election
The conservative CDU said it was eager to examine why what was widely expected to be a sure-fire victory on Sept. 18 turned into a near debacle. They only garnered 35.2 percent of the popular vote and narrowly edged out Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats (SPD). At the same time, they were intent on avoiding a public bout of self-flagellation that could have weakened their party and Merkel, Germany's new chancellor as of Nov. 22.
"The CDU and CSU fell well short of their goal in the election because they talked too much about flat tax and too little about people," Jürgen Rüttgers, the powerful CDU premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, said in a column in the German daily Die Welt on Monday.
Just months before the election, the conservatives had held a 20-point lead over the SPD and some opinion polls suggested they would win enough votes to control parliament on their own. But a series of missteps came soon thereafter, the biggest of which may have been Merkel's naming of academic Paul Kirchhof, an advocate of a 25 percent flat tax, as her designated finance minister.
Schröder made Kirchhof the focus of a late campaign drive, whipping up public fears that "the professor from Heidelberg" would soak the working class to cut taxes for the rich.
In the end, Merkel's conservatives beat the SPD by just one percentage point and had to abandon their preferred plans of forming a coalition with the free-market liberals, the FDP. They had no choice but to forge a "grand coalition" with the SPD.
Peter Müller, the premier of the state of Saarland, said the party had to forge a closer connection to the people. He said the campaign had been too technocratic and had lacked a larger vision that voters could relate to.
A little softer, a little more cheerful
Some senior members of the party are clamoring for a makeover that would give the party a more caring image and a less reform-focused message, and show that they have an overarching strategy on where the country should be headed, not just ideas about tinkering with tax rates and subsidies.
But the CDU members meeting on Monday did not blame Merkel, who is facing a host of foreign policy challenges in her first weeks, including the kidnapping of a German in Iraq and Tuesday's politically sensitive visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
In exchange for treading softer, the party leadership appears to have won her support for a wholesale shift in tone that brings the CDU much closer to its centre-left coalition partners the SPD and, the party hopes, to German voters. "Angela Merkel wants to shed the image of the cold CDU reformer and present herself as the chancellor for all Germans -- partly to counter the internal criticism of her miserable election result," the German weekly Der Spiegel wrote on Sunday.