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CDU and CSU: Happy together, for now

Kate Brady Nuremberg
December 15, 2017

Two years since her humiliating dressing-down, Angela Merkel was back as a guest at the CSU party conference. But how long can the unity between Germany's conservative parties last? Kate Brady reports from Nuremberg.

Merkel and Seehofer at the CSU party conference
Image: picture-alliance/abaca/A. Gebert

"Whether you believe it or not, I'm very glad to be here," Chancellor Angela Merkel said as she opened her speech at the Christian Social Union (CSU) party conference on Friday.

The fact that the chancellor even attended the party conference of her Christian Democrats' (CDU) Bavarian sister party showed how Germany's two conservative forces had progressed since her infamous 2015 appearance.

Forced to stand on stage for 13 minutes, the chancellor looked on humiliated two years ago as CSU party leader Horst Seehofer criticized her refugee policy — to much applause from some 1,000 party delegates. A year later, the chancellor was nowhere to be seen.

Horst Seehofer and Angela Merkel and the CSU party conference in 2015
Friday's messages of unity from Seehofer and Merkel were a far cry from their appearance in 2015Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Hoppe

But two years and one general election since the dressing down, Merkel was back and unity was her core message. With the Social Democrats (SPD) having agreed just hours earlier to enter exploratory coalition talks with the conservatives, unity between Merkel and Seehofer's parties will be crucial.

Read more: SPD's Martin Schulz announces preliminary German coalition talks

"The CDU and the CSU are particularly strong when they're united," Merkel said. "Therefore, it’s worthwhile striving and fighting for this unity."

Particular support for Merkel followed her rejection of a public health insurance system, proposed by the SPD.

"It simply wouldn't work," she said.

Following a three-minute standing ovation for Merkel, opinion among the CSU delegates was largely linear.

"She was very good, very direct, and she showed emotion," delegate Thorsten Wozinak told DW.

Member of the Bavarian state parliament Mechthild Wittman also praised the chancellor for highlighting how "important it is to achieve unity and push forward together."

Read more: Angela Merkel - love her or loathe her

For delegate Benedikt Graf von Bentzel, however, Merkel still left much to be desired. "She was the same as always," he told DW. "She said a lot of things that are important to voters, but she needs to do some straight talking. She still didn't say how she wants to achieve concrete goals."

But despite Merkel's gentle stroking of the Bavarian CSU ego on Friday, the harmony could be limited.

Trouble brewing?

Waiting on the sidelines is Markus Söder. The 50-year-old is likely to be elected on Saturday as the CSU's candidate in the Bavarian state election next fall, where the CSU will be putting all its efforts into winning back voters lost to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in September’s federal election. That strategy likely means the CSU remaining steadfast in its traditional, conservative, right-leaning politics.

The party walked away with 38 percent of the vote on September 24 — a huge loss compared to their result in the 2013 Bavarian state election, where they won 47.7 percent. Should it fail to gain ground by fall, the CSU will find itself on unprecedented ground — and unable to govern in Bavaria with a majority.

All eyes on the capital

But before the CSU concentrates on matters in Germany's deep south, there's a bigger task at hand in Berlin: building a new government.

Looking back on the failed "Jamaica coalition" talks — between the conservatives, Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP) — Seehofer said that the re-discovered harmony between the CDU und CSU had already been put into practice, with the two parties "completely united."

Angela Merkel, Horst Seehofer and Martin Schulz
SPD leader Martin Schulz (right) has agreed to hold exploratory talks with Merkel and Seehofer Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

The Union — comprised of the CDU und CSU — is the "only political power, which is able to act, able to govern and, what's more important, willing to govern," Seehofer said.

The unity showcased on Friday will be next put to the test at the exploratory coalition talks with the SPD. Both the CDU and CSU are committed to building a stable government but, as the placards following Merkel as she arrived at the party conference on Friday read, "not at any price."