It took only 14 months for Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to tumble from the top of German politics and lose her chance to replace Angela Merkel as Chancellor. But the fall of Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer is symptomatic of deeper ills in the German party political system.
The immediate cause of his resignation on Monday as leader of the ruling Christian Democrats was his inability to exercise control over local CDU politicians in the small eastern state of Thuringia. They agreed last week with the right-wing nationalist party Alternative for Germany to elect the Prime Minister of Thuringia, breaking a taboo on cooperation with the radical right that had existed since the formation of the West German democratic state. in 1949.
The public reaction against the action of the Thuringian CDU was immediate and intense. Far from representing a real breakthrough for the AfD, the unsavory episode actually demonstrated that a majority of German society – at least, in the West – wants the taboo on collaboration with the far right to be applied resolutely and unconditionally.
In this sense, Germany is still a long way from following the route of neighboring Austria, where the far-right Liberty party was brought into a coalition government at the national level after the 2017 elections. It shared power. for 18 months before his unsavory behavior forced him to the party not in power.
There were other factors behind Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer’s disgrace. She made public relations and policy mistakes that undermined her position with German voters, spurred internal dissent within the CDU and made it increasingly doubtful that she would be selected as the party’s chancellor candidate. in the next Bundestag elections, scheduled for September 2021.
Even Ms Merkel’s decision in July to promote Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer to defense minister could not stop the CDU sharks from circling around their new leader. Leading the Defense Ministry is a thankless task for German politicians at best, but the main criticism of its critics was that it jeopardized the CDU’s chances of remaining the dominant party after the next election.
This illustrates that the root cause of the collapse of its authority lies in the reshaping and fragmentation of the German party landscape during Merkel’s time. In the 2017 Bundestag elections, the CDU and the Social Democrats, their coalition partners, each obtained their lowest national vote since the end of Nazism.
What was once a tripartite system, involving the CDU, SPD and the liberal Liberal Democrats, evolved after the 1980s into a four-party system with the rise of the Greens. Then it became a five-party system with the emergence of Die Linke, a left-wing party rooted in the former Communist dictatorship of East Germany.
Finally, after the birth of the AfD in 2013 and entering the Bundestag in 2017, the system has six parties – or seven, if we count the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of the CDU, separately. . This split made the formation of stable coalition governments an even more delicate task, a task made difficult by the refusal of the four major parties to consider governing at the national level with Die Linke or the AfD.
The Thuringian debacle will add to these complications by heightening the suspicions about the Free Democrats, who have been as guilty as the CDU, if not more, of having effectively lifted the taboo on the AfD. No less important, the prospect of a CDU-Greens partnership will be clouded by the Greens’ doubts as to whether the CDU can be trusted to maintain the staunch isolation of the radical right in German regional policy. .
The effect of these cuts is not to undermine the integrity of German democracy, but rather to raise questions about the effectiveness of Germany’s role in Europe and on the wider world stage. As the old international order erodes, Germany is rocked by short-term political convulsions and long-term structural changes that hold it back when its leadership is most needed.