Will the Bavaria election spare the German Government fresh blushes?

Written by Yuriy Sheyko on 12 October 2018 in Opinion
Opinion

Ever since the current federal coalition in Germany was forged earlier this year, it has been plagued by scandals, explains Yuriy Sheyko.

The desperate efforts of the Christian Social Union (CSU) party to preserve its dominant position in Bavaria have sparked two crises in the German federal government in the space of just a few months and have only hastened the decline of the Conservatives.

While it represents a single parliamentary group in the Bundestag, the alliance is made up of two sister political parties. Angela Merkel's party is the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) which is present in all but one 16 federal states in Germany. The Christian Social Union (CSU), its sister party, is based in Bavaria.

This state has long been a fiefdom of the CSU. After Sunday’s (14 October) election to Landtag, the regional parliament, this will probably no longer be the case.


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The latest polls predict that 33-35 percent of the vote will go to the CSU. Although that is enough to clinch first place, such a result would be catastrophic compared to the almost 48 percent won at an election five years ago.

This will come as no shock to the CSU, certainly since its lacklustre performance at the federal election last September. It tried to avert losses and invested a lot of time in winning back current supporters of the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD).

AfD, which campaigns on anti-immigration and security issues, is poised to win third place.

The same issues have also been central for the conservative CSU. One particular stunt saw the Bavarian government of Markus Söder order crucifixes to be fixed in every public office in the state as of June 1.

"AfD, which campaigns on anti-immigration and security issues, is poised to win third place"

The move, which was clearly meant to show that the CSU is the best defender of Christianity, caused a furore and arguably did more harm than good.

Instead of being seen as genuine political initiatives, the CSU’s efforts to promote itself as the sole driving force on the right side of the spectrum in conservative-leaning Bavaria were interpreted as hollow and desperate antics.

Arguably the party’s worst political clangers have been dropped by Federal Interior Minister and CSU leader, Horst Seehofer. In June he clashed with Merkel over granting asylum seekers already registered in another EU country entry to Germany.

The coalition was rescued after EU leaders achieved a tougher stance on migration leaders at the June summit. Nonetheless, June was the point where support for the CSU started its steady decline.

"The fact that there is no Bavarian prime minister at the helm of the CSU will provide both Seehofer and Söder with the possibility of blame shifting. They have already started pointing fingers at each other"

Seehofer played his part in bringing the federal government back from the brink of collapse for the second time in September, when German intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maaßen questioned video footage of far-right protesters chasing migrants in Chemnitz.

Though Seehofer did his utmost to shield him, Maaßen was ultimately ousted from his position at the Federal Office for Constitutional Protection (BfV). But the damage to both the CSU and the Social Democrats had already been done.

So, will the backbiting and conflicts in the federal coalition abate after the election in Bavaria?

Quite possibly, if the CSU fares better than expected, as the desperation level within the party will taper off somewhat. But if the result is worse than 35%, one can fully expect a bunfight inside the party.

The fact that there is no Bavarian prime minister at the helm of the CSU will provide both Seehofer and Söder with the possibility of blame shifting. They have already started pointing fingers at each other.

Another destabilising factor will be coalition building. For 60 years Bavaria was governed by CSU prime ministers, mostly without a need to build a coalition. After October 14 the CSU will most probably need two partners, so the negotiations will be tough and there may be repercussions for the federal government, especially if Seehofer retains both of his offices.

There is even a chance that four parties, besides the CSU and AfD, will earn enough mandates for a majority. Practically spoken, such a coalition would be too difficult to negotiate.

The aftershocks of heavy CSU losses will also be felt in Brussels. They will hamper the chances of Manfred Weber to get elected as a Spitzenkandidat of the EPP for the European Parliament election next May.

Weber may have no responsibility for the CSU result in Bavaria, but the EPP - a party group with the ambition to secure the office of the European Commission President - won't be too eager to be led by someone representing a loser-party.

About the author

Yuriy Sheyko is journalist based in Germany and Brussels

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