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Opinion

Opinion: Ruling without a party

Angela Merkel stands by her refugee policy - even after the shock of the state elections on Sunday. She may have good reasons, but the Chancellor is drifting away from her party, writes DW's Jens Thurau.

Let us look back in history to Cologne in November 1983 at the Social Democrat (SPD) party congress: The former Chancellor sat alone after his party members had rejected his request to hold on to the NATO Double-Track Decision. Four hundred votes were against it and a mere 14 for it. Even party chairman Willy Brandt and parliamentary group leader Hans-Jochen Vogel turned their backs on Helmut Schmidt, who had just lost the chancellorship to Helmut Kohl a good year earlier.

Will Angela Merkel go through the same? For a long time, it was hard to imagine such a thing, but since the weekend it seems more likely. Or rather, since Monday when the chancellor in Berlin acted as though the heavy Christian Democrat (CDU) losses in Baden-Wurttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate did not mean anything to her. She stands by her refugee policy. Okay, fine. She may have her reasons, but the fact that her party is also suffering does not seem to get through to her.

People have nuanced views

People have nuanced views on a policy that affords the greatest possible generosity in the reception of refugees. The majority is nonetheless relieved that only a few refugees are arriving in Germany at the moment and would like to see a cap on the numbers soon. But at least in the western German states, most of the population considers the refugee influx to be enrichment. Is that a contradiction? It actually expresses great uncertainty. People no longer know where they are headed.

Thurau Jens Kommentarbild App

DW's Jens Thurau

And the CDU no longer knows either. Angela Merkel has set high standards for her own party in recent years: the end of nuclear power - imposed from above and without much debate, the end of mandatory military service for young men, the acceptance of a new, liberal family ideal and rights for homosexuals.

The party put up with all the changes as one significant inclination always seemed to be stronger: Once in power, the CDU has always defended its chancellor, unlike the SPD. Yet at some point, Merkel may have gone too far for her party.

A party to the right of the CDU

Now, a force has emerged that former CDU strategists were capable of avoiding until now: a power to the political right of the CDU, which mainstream voters and right-wing voters can choose. The notion that the AfD will disappear once the refugee crisis is resolved (How is this possible?) seems naive. What the AfD formulates is what the CDU has effortlessly incorporated in its platform for years. But Merkel's CDU cannot deliver on that anymore.

The CDU has lost another important part of its image: reliability and credibility. Germans had long found those traits in Angela Merkel. People did not have to agree with her all the time but they felt the country was safe in her hands. Nowadays, when the CDU and its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) wrangle and tinker over issues, and Horst Seehofer attacks Merkel on a daily basis, the trust is being destroyed.

Actually, Merkel should be alarmed at the number of conservatives in Baden-Württemberg who have searched and found reliability in the Green party - but that does not seem to be the case. Angela Merkel must now be careful that she does not remove herself from reality in the Chancellery. It would not be the first time it happened to a chancellor after many years in office.

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