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Germany

CDU struggles to maintain identity amid ultra-conservatives' dissent

With Angela Merkel's Christian Democratics shedding politicians and voters, speculations have flown that Germany may be ready for a more conservative party. CDU leaders deny their party needs a clearer identity.

Angela Merkel speaking in Stuttgart with the letters CDU behind her

What others are calling disunity, Merkel called diversity

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) defended itself against rumblings that the party is losing its identity, as the CDU's unity came under fire from its disgruntled ultra-conservatives.

Many conservative traditionalists do not feel at home in the party anymore, according to Martin Lohmann, spokesman for the CDU's platform for active Catholics.

Lohmann told Deutsche Welle that "conservative core values are no longer being upheld by the leadership, leaving more and more party members politically homeless."

"There's a real threat of a breakaway conservative party emerging as our leaders appear to be sleeping through recent developments," he added.

A new party?

David McAllister

McAllister said the CDU would remain home to Germany's conservatives

Such arguments have picked up steam since right-wing figurehead Erika Steinbach announced last week her resignation. Steinbach was steeped in controversy after statements she made implying Poland was partly to blame for World War II.

Steinbach, who, as head of the Federation of Expellees (BdV), represents 12.5 million Germans expelled from Eastern Europe after World War II. She told the weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag that she believed there was room on the German political stage for an ultraconservative party right of the CDU.

Polling firm Emnid confirmed Steinbach's statement with a study released Monday, in which the firm found that a new right-wing party could win nearly 20 percent of German votes.

Most of these 20 percent were disenfranchised voters from the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), Emnid director Klaus-Peter Schoeppner told the newspaper Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung. Schoeppner added that the two conservative parties had lost a third of their loyal members since the last parliamentary elections in September 2009.

CDU shedding leaders

Yet the CDU seems to be having as much difficulty maintaining its own politicians as its voters.

Gero Neugebauer, a political analyst at Berlin's Free University, believes the debate is purely political and has little to do with conservative identity but is rather being "brought up as an alibi by politicians who must realize their position in the party is getting weaker and who feel they need to say goodbye in a loud way."

Merkel's tight grip on her party has left scores of arch-conservatives by the wayside. Among those who became disillusioned and left party posts were conservative heavyweights Friedrich Merz and former Hesse state premier Roland Koch - as well as Christian Wulff, the current German president.

Erika Steinbach

Ultra-conservative Steinbach's resignation cast the spotlight on the CDU's unhappy right wing

Although Merkel threw her support behind Wulff to replace the also-resigned President Horst Koehler, that move was widely seen as a bid to eliminate him as a potential rival for the chancellorship.

CDU based on 'three pillars'

Stanislaw Tillich, leader of the CDU in the eastern state of Saxony, stressed that the resignation of some CDU politicians did not signify the party had lost its identity.

Tillich dismissed the need for a debate over the CDU's identity altogether, claiming that the formula for a so-called "catch-all" party was "that it has members from all wings [of the political spectrum]."

Lower Saxony state premier David McAllister meanwhile stressed on Monday that the CDU, best known for its fiscal conservatism, had three major streams: "conservatives, those concerned with social issues and liberals." He stressed that the CDU was Germany's only big-tent party, saying that conservatives had found their home within the CDU and would continue to do so.

Merkel also clung to the CDU's so-called three pillars.

"None of these roots will ever be neglected because they make up our political strength," she said. "There's no room for a party to the right of the CDU and it's our task to stop any radical views from gaining ground."

Merkel speaking in front of a CDU sign

One pollster estimates Merkel's party has lost a third of voters

Erika Steinbach, who despite advocating a new right-wing protest party, says she intends to remain in the CDU, also repeated the party line, with her own twist.

"We have three legs – a table with three legs," Steinbach said, in what has been interpreted as a sideswipe against the party in which she no longer feels at home.

Author: Uwe Hessler, David Levitz (AP/dpa/Reuters)

Editor: Rob Turner

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