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CDU moves closer to the AfD

Heiner Kiesel
November 22, 2016

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic party has published a new position paper ahead of the 2017 parliamentary election as it battles a public surge to the right.

Angela Merkel
Image: picture alliance/dpa/C.Rehder

Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has taken an important step in positioning itself for the parliamentary election campaign next fall. The party's federal presidium has approved a white paper for the party conference on December 6 in Essen. The 21-page paper, titled "Orientation in difficult times – for a successful Germany and Europe," is the party's reaction to the country's growing right-wing populist movement.

In the white paper, the CDU party leadership warns against competition from right-wing parties, saying they only promise "easy" answers, which don't address the urgent problems facing Germany now and in the future. Isolationism, protectionism and populism have never worked before, the paper says. But it doesn't delve too much into complexities. The authors refer reassuringly to Germany's social security systems. Merkel's party also says it is committed to improving domestic security, suggesting increased video surveillance and better equipping the police as options.

Getting tough on refugees

The CDU has placed particular emphasis on its refugee and integration policy, though here, too, it appears as though its response is being driven by its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, and the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD).

"The events of the past year should not be allowed to repeat themselves," the paper says, referring to the massive increase in the number of refugees. If need be, this should be prevented with "further measures."

Angela Merkel kandidiert erneut
Chancellor Angela Merkel (C), Armin Laschet (L), Ursula von der Leyen (2nd L), Thomas Strobel (3rd L), Peter Tauber (3rd R), Volker Bouffier (2nd R) and Julia Kloeckner (R) pose for a group picture at the beginning of a meeting of the CDU governing board in Berlin.Image: Getty Images/C. Koall

These could include transit zones areas close to the border where refugees could be held while their claims are processed. In addition, the party leadership suggests the immediate return of all shipwrecked migrants back to northern Africa where they could be housed in camps "in conjunction with the affected countries."

The position paper thoroughly describes previous initiatives that have led to a drastic reduction in the number of refugees - the deal with Turkey, the classification of repressive countries as safe countries of origin, fences, and better border controls. The party views all this as bonus points. The CDU clearly no longer wants to be associated with Germany's globally admired "Willkommenskultur" (welcome culture).

Muslims under suspicion

The position paper also makes it clear that the CDU sees integration mainly as a one-way street. It's up to the newcomers to adapt to the Judeo-Christian society. Immigrants should demonstrate their willingness to integrate by doing volunteer work, such as joining their communal volunteer firefighting brigade.

Deutschland Wahl zum Berliner Abgeordnetenhaus
A graph showing the distribution of seats after local Berlin elections in September. The AfD went from zero to twenty.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm

It also revives discussion of a German "Leitkultur" or dominant culture. According to the CDU, this culture repudiates certain items of religious clothing, such as the full-body veil worn by some Muslim women. At the same time, the paper states that "the practice of the Muslim faith is both welcome and protected in Germany." But Islam remains under suspicion because, as the paper states, religion is not to be abused to spread hate, violence, terrorism, or repression. Imams should be educated in Germany, and mosques suspected of radicalism are to be closely observed or closed if necessary.

The right answer to the AfD?

The paper before the CDU presidium serves as a framework for the election platform on which the party will elaborate next spring. But the paper doesn't convey any sense of change. That would perhaps be out of place given that the party's candidate remains Angela Merkel. In recent months, she has tried together with her cabinet to keep pace with the country's lean to the right by being tougher on issues such as refugees and integration. But that proved to be of little use to the CDU in recent state elections, where the party suffered major losses.


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