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The empty CDU starts a risky maneuver

The residential and office blocks in downtown Pforzheim line up monotonously and uniformly, erected quickly, efficiently and with merciless objectivity after the war.

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The empty CDU starts a risky maneuver

The residential and office blocks in downtown Pforzheim line up monotonously and uniformly, erected quickly, efficiently and with merciless objectivity after the war. The district around the Congress Center resembles a stone museum of the economic miracle - but in the large hall of the complex on Wednesday evening the CDU is modern and technically advanced. And facing the future.

The CDU leadership around party chairman Friedrich Merz had invited the members of the federal states in the south-west to the first of four nationwide regional conferences this March. There they should say what moves them, where they see the major challenges in the country. What the CDU 2023 actually stands for. By mobile phone, on the microphone, in a direct exchange of blows with the party leadership.

The approximately 700 participants who came and did not quite fill the hall were able to scan a code with their mobile phone and type in the keywords that were decisive for them. These were then thrown onto a huge screen on the hall wall, sorted according to the importance of the majority of all participants, so that a ranking was formed.

And some of what Merz, General Secretary Mario Czaja and the head of the Principles Commission, Carsten Linnemann, read there and heard later in the debate with the party base should not please them or make the CDU grandees think. Because they have no answers, no solutions for many things - they have no program.

But that's also what these regional conferences are about. To design a picture of the future of Germany together with the members and a roadmap for how the Christian Democrats can help shape it. The CDU has learned from the Greens or the SPD, who have long since made decisions of no importance without feedback from the grassroots.

In 2019, the Social Democrats chose their leadership duo after weeks of casting during almost two dozen regional conferences. The program marathon of the CDU is organized in a similar way. "From now on I don't want to hear in the Konrad-Adenauer-Haus where we are against it. But what we stand for," said Merz on the stage in Pforzheim. And on this evening to the address of the members of a party, of which Vice-Chairman Linnemann says that after 16 years in government responsibility they are "tired and, especially during the last GroKo, emptied of content".

This party is apparently so "empty" that the party leadership wanted to know from the members at the outset what the "C" in the party name actually stands for. They typed on their mobile phones, chasing the terms they associated with them onto the screen. At the end, the terms “Christian values”, “Christian image of man”, “personal responsibility”, “togetherness” were emblazoned in large numbers – and basically not surprisingly.

When asked about the biggest challenges, the digital debate went back and forth much more: In the first few minutes, the base in the hall focused on “climate change” and “integration”, but the mood shifted in the course of the digital vote. In the end, the topics of "migration", "climate change", "energy transition" and "digitization" dominated - challenges to which the CDU leadership has so far given little convincing answers and has not presented any corresponding concepts.

Merz and the deputy party chairman Linnemann now want to make up for that. 2023 is supposed to be “the year of content”. Friedrich Merz sees the Christian Democrats in phase two after their defeat in the 2021 federal elections, in which they will “develop their own positions again”.

In the end, the new basic program should be in place by 2024, replacing the one from 2007. According to Merz, phase one was about switching the CDU from the governing party to the opposition role. “We used to call the ministries as a government faction and it worked. Today there is even more people on the phone when we get in touch, ”said the party and Union faction leader.

In order to have a chance to win the chancellor's office again in the coming important elections - several in federal states, many at local level, the European elections in 2024 and the one for the Bundestag in 2025 - a stable substantive foundation is necessary, says Merz: "We have We did not lose the 2021 federal election because the others were so good, but because we were no longer good enough. We have to get better again.”

The CDU party leadership wants to refute the Social Democrats, who, like Franz Müntefering, don't just find opposition "crap". Merz now wants to provide evidence to the contrary.

Taking the party base directly with you when it comes to finding a program is a risky business. The range of wishes and requirements coming from the thousands of members involved is wide, and the disappointment is likely to be even greater if the points discussed are not reflected in the new basic program.

The CDU, which was controlled almost exclusively from the chancellery in the Merkel era, also has far less experience than the SPD and the Greens in daring to risk more direct democracy, including involving its grassroots. "What are you doing to prevent medium-sized companies from finding a successor?" a young Christian Democrat from the Saar wanted to know in Pforzheim. A company representative from Esslingen asked what the CDU wanted to do about companies investing too little in Germany.

The CDU starts its regional conferences in Pforzheim, Baden-Württemberg, with guests such as party leader Friedrich Merz and Secretary General Mario Czaja. Wiebke Winter from the Bremen CDU explains the goals of the regional conferences and reveals which Union politician can get Olaf Scholz going.

Source: WORLD

A Christian Democrat from Stuttgart called for a welfare state that “helps people in need, but first relies on personal responsibility”. a reconciliation of society and a new culture of debate, so that the “population is not further divided”, a party member from Lake Constance. And there was also criticism of the party leadership: "Of the three pillars, we have some catching up to do in social and ecological terms," ​​said another Christian Democrat from Stuttgart. "We are still too business-heavy."

It won't be easy for Linnemann to ensure that most of the points that are most important to the grassroots are reflected in the new policy. Especially since he "does not want to take the zeitgeist into account, nor any surveys, but only the core brand of the CDU".

Another difficulty: Friedrich Merz defined what belongs to this brand essence through announcements in Pforzheim that surprised even the party leadership: "I will not present a draft for a basic program that does not contain a concept for employee wealth creation," he says without prior notice.

In the Linnemann team, the big notes-taking then began. The fact that the members are demanding rules for a new culture of debate in the country was also on the list of items to be included in the new program.

On Friday evening, the CDU leadership invites you to the second regional conference in Münster; two more will follow in East Germany in a few days. Next Wednesday, the CDU will start a member survey, on June 17th there will be a "Principles Convention" in Berlin.

And then? Then, according to Linnemann, "every party member can name the three most important principles of the CDU if they wake you up at three o'clock in the morning".

"Kick-off Politics" is WELT's daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, among others, or directly via RSS feed.

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