North Rhine-Westphalia's Prime Minister and CDU state leader has an important voice in the Union, so his recent distancing from the conservative should not be underestimated. "The brand core of the CDU was never conservative, but Christian," said Hendrik Wüst in an interview with the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Sunday newspaper".
Wüst takes over the wording of the former North Rhine-Westphalia head of government and CDU party leader Armin Laschet. A few years earlier, Laschet had emphasized: "We have to make it clear that the core of the brand of the Christian Democratic Union is not conservative, but that the Christian image of man is above everything else."
Laschet, who is Christian, social and liberal, has always been strangers to the conservatives. It is surprising that Wüst emulates him, after all he himself was once a pioneer of "modern bourgeois conservatism" and took the position that the "bourgeois conservative" was the "essential unique selling point of the Union". This is what it says in a paper from 2007, when Wüst was still Secretary General of the North Rhine-Westphalia CDU and governed the first grand coalition under the then Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.
Wüst had worked it out with like-minded people, including the then CSU General Secretary and current Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder. “In public perception, however, the bourgeois-conservative element has receded into the background because the grand coalition is forcing many compromises. However, a visible accentuation of its bourgeois-conservative roots is of central importance for the majority of the Union," says the paper.
In the meantime, Wüst is one of those who do not see the middle-class conservative as the core of the brand or even as a unique selling point of the Union. Wüst is also setting other accents in NRW and, with his new black-green state government, has made climate protection a central political agenda.
All of these are important signals for work on the new CDU basic program, which is to be adopted by the 2024 European elections. Friedrich Merz has always been considered the figurehead of the conservatives and, during Merkel's years in power, liked to lament the "social democratization" of the CDU. As CDU chairman, he has hardly dared to adopt a conservative style. Instead, the debate about the quota for women in the party revealed a deep disappointment among many conservatives, including young ones.
Merz has repeatedly tried to make a name for himself with statements critical of migration. He recently complained about "social tourism" by Ukraine refugees on "Bild-TV" - and after widespread criticism, apologized for the choice of words.
CDU leader Friedrich Merz has apologized again after serious allegations for his choice of words of "social tourism" by Ukraine refugees. He wished the chancellor a “quick and good recovery”. However, he regrets the cancellation of the Prime Ministers' Conference, which "would also have been possible virtually".
Merz does not want to comment on Wüst's statement about the conservative on request. So far, the North Rhine-Westphalia head of government has not received any direct opposition from his party, apart from the "Union of Values". However, Hamburg's CDU state chief Christoph Ploß feels compelled to take a stand for the conservatives: "Conservatives stand for moderation and mean, they do not go to extremes," emphasized Ploß when asked by WELT. It is important that the CDU brings together its liberal, Christian-social and conservative currents as best as possible. “We must not allow value-conservative members and voters to alienate themselves from the CDU. The CDU must always be the mouthpiece of the middle-class conservatives in Germany," warned the member of the Bundestag.
Other federal and state politicians are not as clear as Ploß when asked by WELT. But a different emphasis is important to them than that which Wüst undertakes. “The CDU has strong Christian, but also liberal and conservative roots. But the starting point of our policy is a Christian understanding of man. In this respect, Hendrik Wüst is right," explains Mathias Middelberg (CDU), Vice President of the Union faction, diplomatically. You have to “keep all schools of thought strong in the CDU”. Union parliamentary group vice-president Johann Wadephul, the leader of the Junge Union, Tilmann Kuban, and Baden-Württemberg's CDU state leader Thomas Strobl made similar statements.
According to Carsten Körber, chairman of the Saxony state group in the Union faction, it has always been the case “that sometimes one trend predominates, then another”. Körber follows up with a warning: It has also been shown “that the CDU was and is most successful when these three currents are each represented in a balanced manner and on an equal footing. Because if one of the three supporting pillars is smaller than the others, the house naturally won’t hold together.”
For Körber, being conservative means, in the spirit of the former Bavarian Prime Minister Franz Josef Strauss (CSU), “being at the forefront of progress. Of course we are open to new and innovative ideas. But we are not naive. We know that new is not always better.”
The head of the NRW state group in the Union faction, Günter Krings (CDU), supports Wüst and emphasizes: "Hendrik Wüst is absolutely right: the core of the CDU brand is Christian." For us, the three pillars of conservative, liberal and social rest on the foundation of the Christian image of man.” Krings, for example, understands climate protection as a fundamentally conservative concern: “Advocating for the preservation of our creation and the associated exit from lignite mining, for example, is a deeply conservative one Position that the CDU has largely neglected.”
Hesse's new Prime Minister Boris Rhein (CDU) tries to give a benevolent interpretation of Wüst's statement in the interview: "My colleague Hendrik Wüst certainly meant his statement that the conservative is not the only root of the Union. The Union is fed by the conservatives, the liberals and the Christian-social,” emphasizes Rhein to WELT.
The CDU parliamentary group leader in the North Rhine-Westphalia state parliament, Thorsten Schick, gives the conservative a higher priority: "The conservative in the CDU is just as important as our other principles." Schick also sees a conceptual change: "What is considered 'conservative' today is not the same as what was considered conservative in the days of Konrad Adenauer or Helmut Kohl. This shows that our society – and therefore also our party – is not static.”
Matthias Kerkhoff is parliamentary director of the CDU parliamentary group and heads the CDU district association Hochsauerland, to which Merz also belongs. Kerkhoff understands the conservative as an expression of an "attitude that wants to take people with them through all the changes and wants to shape the change in such a way that people can keep up". From his point of view, this is a "demand that a party that defines itself as conservative should meet," said Kerkhoff.
Union faction vizin Dorothee Bär (CSU) thinks that the conservatives are “well represented” in the two sister parties – Ronja Kemmer, member of the Bundestag and also chairwoman of the young group in the Union faction, makes a similar statement. "Being conservative includes the promise of stability, reliability and predictability," adds Kemmer. She also complains that many left-of-center people like to use "conservative" "as an ideological battlefield against the Union."
A long time ago, Wüst would have agreed – and expressed himself even more vehemently. In 2000, when Wüst, at the age of 25, led the Junge Union in North Rhine-Westphalia, he said in an interview with the newspaper Junge Freiheit: "I believe that if bourgeois politicians committed themselves much more clearly to being German and to the nation, one would use many slogans, such as the statement: 'I'm proud to be a German', not left to people who then immediately bring chauvinistic things afterwards. That would also protect against radicalism.” It must “only just come back into fashion, even in the bourgeois camp, to declare your allegiance to Germany”.
The young libertine also defended a controversy sparked by Merz about German “leading culture”. 22 years later, Wüst is no longer recognizable.
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