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Germany

The CDU's 70th anniversary - preservation over change

It started with Christian Socialism: restrain the capital, support the worker. That was 70 years ago. Today, the CDU is quite different.

There are many things the CDU has been accused of. Not open enough for discussion, too Catholic, an old boys' club and just plain 'square.' It's a fact that the Christian Democrats still don't arrive at a unified opinion via public discussion. That's more the Social Democrats' thing.

But apart from that, many things have changed, especially since the fall of the Wall. The CDU is now more Protestant, thanks to the East Germans and more female - not just thanks to Angela Merkel, but simply because it's a sign of our times. The CDU has always considered itself modern, but one thing is clear: it aims to preserve, not change.

A party for the mainstream

At the very beginning, in 1945, there was talk of "Christian Socialism." But this turned out to be less than a blip. "By using the world socialism, we win over five people, but we lose 20," Konrad Adenauer, the party's leading figure from very early on, said. After 1949, the socialist period was history.

Instead, the capitalist economic order with a strong social corrective became the basis for the CDU's societal ideal. The social market economy was born - former West Germany's recipe for success.

Konrad Adenauer im Bundestag 1955

Konrad Adenauer, Germany's first post-war chancellor

This change was quickly followed by one in the confessional order. In its origins, the CDU was predominantly Catholic, but it soon opened itself to other Christian faiths as well. The party didn't want to be Catholic, it wanted to be Christian.

As a result, the CDU was starting to become a catch-all party for mainstream citizens as early as 1947. At the helm: Konrad Adenauer, former mayor of the large West German city of Cologne and chancellor of West Germany from 1949 to 1963. A man of power with uncanny political instincts and clear-cut ideas about the goals of the young republic.

Facing West

"The Old Man," as he was uniformly called, had his eyes strictly on the Western hemisphere. Closing of ranks with the US, joining NATO (in 1955) - in short: his goal was forging and cementing close links with the West.

His greatest political achievement in the East was that he brought home thousands of German prisoners of war from the Soviet Union, which emotionally earned him a lot of gratitude.

Adenauer derived his Western-oriented policies from his "suction effect" theory. He believed that Moscow's idea of a unified neutral Germany was merely a cover-up and that sooner or later, the country would end up in the clutches of Communism. With this, Adenauer set the course for decades of a divided Germany.

Economically, the young republic experienced an era of "Aufschwung" - the economiic upswing of the 1950s and 60s. The social market economy connected economic success with social peace. It's been a trademark and a success of the CDU and remains so even oday.

Kohl's unifying achievement

Another CDU politician reached even greater heights. If Adenauer was considered a "doer," this was even truer for Helmut Kohl. His management of German reunification is recognized and acclaimed even among political adversaries. Kohl turned the weakness of East Germany and its protector, the Soviet Union, into political capital by taking into account the "power of the streets," or all those protesting against the regime. This unexpected historic opportunity secured Kohl a place in the history books.

Wasserwerfer Mauerfall in Berlin 10. November 1989

Germans celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. Helmut Kohl was one of the key figures behind the historic event.

Some of his Social Democratic predecessors in the chancellery have also achieved great things, be it Willy Brandt with his 'Ostpolitik' or Helmut Schmidt with his crisis management during the RAF terror attacks.

But to achieve German reunification without violence in such a short time period and together with the Allies, was the outstanding event in Germany's political history after 1945. And it was orchestrated mostly by Helmut Kohl, who had been underestimated for a long time.

Continuity at the top

For 10 years now, Kohl's successor, Angela Merkel, has been governing the country - and the party. As chancellor and head of the CDU, she is a master at keeping the country and the party quiet with a few, spare stage directions.

Merkel has banished all opponents to political insignificance. She is a strict and undisputed leader, like Adenauer and Kohl were before her. It's the strength of the CDU to rule powerfully, some say. Others criticize the weak culture of discussion in the party and the autocratic gamesmanship of CDU leaders.

Next year, Angela Merkel will have caught up with Adenauer's time in office. Kohl was a longtime leader as well. The CDU has survived decades with just a few party leaders, while the Social Democrats have had countless leaders during the same period. The CDU values continuity. It prefers preservation to change in its leadership as well.