Thuringia and the berlin cdu: the rightward shift of a big-city party

No sooner had the AfD, CDU and FDP made common cause in Thuringia than Berlin CDU faction leader Burkard Dregger defended himself against any criticism.

Demo in front of FDP headquarters. The Berlin CDU could also be ashamed of itself Photo: dpa

Not even two hours had passed. At 1:27 p.m. Wednesday came the first breaking news, according to which the FDP candidate Thomas Kemmerich was elected prime minister in Thuringia with the votes of AfD and CDU. Already at 3:16 p.m., Berlin CDU parliamentary group leader Burkard Dregger spoke out. "This is a democratic decision that cannot be criticized," he told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

Even if new elections do now take place in Thuringia, Dregger’s statement is lasting. And it is astonishing because the Union leadership is taking a completely different position. The CDU faction in the Thuringian state parliament had acted "expressly against the recommendations, demands and requests of the federal party," CDU party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer stressed on Wednesday evening, and spoke out in favor of new elections. Then on Thursday, Angela Merkel spoke of an "unforgivable event."

But Dregger couldn’t care less about Merkel’s and AKK’s admonitions. His line was already clear: "I do not see a reason for new elections," he stressed in his statement at 15:16. "The voter has decided, the parties must deal with it and have done so on Wednesday in the state parliament." He added that the CDU must now talk with the FDP about forming a government. There was also no distancing from state leader Kai Wegner.

Has the Berlin CDU slipped to the right after the involuntary departure of former state chairwoman Monika Grutters? Will it even prepare the ground for talks with the AfD in the next elections to the House of Representatives in 2021? Michael Braun shows that there are also dissenting voices. The long-time district chairman of the CDU Steglitz-Zehlendorf wrote on Facebook: "Who would have thought that once in front of a party headquarters of the FDP is demonstrated, mind you, the liberal party of Germany, because a representative of this party can be elected by AfD Nazis as Prime Minister? I am shocked, no less by the members of my party in the Thuringian state parliament."

"Process strategically unwise"

However, Braun has not been a member of the CDU parliamentary group in the House of Representatives since 2016. Its liberal figurehead, Christian Goiny, was more reserved in his comments on Thuringia. "Even if I do not share the political outrage – after all, a democrat was co-elected by right-wing extremists, who immediately ruled out cooperation with the AfD, and not a right-wing extremist by democrats – the process remains politically and strategically unwise!"

For the deputy chairwoman of the left-wing parliamentary group in the Berlin House of Representatives, Regina Kittler, the statements from the Berlin CDU do not come as a surprise. "While the federal CDU is still trying to save what can be saved and is calling for new elections in Thuringia, Dregger and Wegner are in all seriousness welcoming the actions of their fellow party members," Kittler says in a press release. "In the Berlin CDU, the shift to the right, which has been observable in the House of Representatives for months, is manifesting itself. Instead of standing up for democracy and the rule of law, they pander to the AfD wherever possible." Kittler added to the taz that a substantive coalition of CDU, FDP and AfD had already become apparent in the debate about Paul von Hindenburg’s honorary citizenship.

Irritated about the statements of Burkard Dregger is also Antje Kapek. "On the right eye he is tolerant, on the left eye he is blind with rage," says the Green Party leader to the taz. She recalls that Dregger prevented a joint resolution on the fall of the Wall with Red-Red-Green in November. "At the last closed meeting, Dregger fired up his faction not to make common cause with the left anymore." On the other hand, he had defended right-wingers such as the fraternity leader Michael Buge. Buge had been made state secretary by then-CDU social affairs senator Mario Czaja in 2011. Two years later, he had to resign when his membership became known. Today he works as AfD managing director in the state parliament of Rhineland-Palatinate.

Under Monika Grutters, the CDU still cultivated its image of the liberal big-city party

Meanwhile, Antje Kapek speaks of a "red sock campaign" that the Berlin CDU is running, a strategy that led to the election of Thomas Kemmerich in Thuringia with the votes of the CDU, FDP and AfD. Admittedly, the Berlin FDP also sounded the same horn as CDU man Dregger. FDP state leader Christoph Meyer, for example, declared that his party colleague Kemmerich could make Thuringia better. And parliamentary group leader Sebastian Czaja pleaded for a "strong coalition of the middle" in Thuringia.

But for Berlin’s CDU, the shift to the right is all the more surprising given that under Monika Grutters, the party still cultivated its image as the liberal party of the big city. But now that Karl Wegner has ousted Grutters from the state chairmanship, a different wind is blowing. A green-black alliance, such as the CDU entered into in Michael Braun’s district of Steglitz-Zehlendorf, is likely to be a distant prospect at the state level. The rapprochement with the positions of the AfD, on the other hand, is clearly discernible.

If Dregger’s comments can be explained by the fact that the Berlin CDU is in opposition to the SPD, the Left and the Greens, the reactions of the Christian Democrats in Brandenburg are all the more surprising – because the Brandenburg CDU governs in an alliance with the SPD and the Greens. Nevertheless, Brandenburg’s CDU congratulated the FDP’s Kemmerich on Wednesday for being elected minister president.

Greens state chairwoman Nina Stahr "absolutely stunned".

The members of the Thuringian state parliament would have elected Kemmerich as prime minister in a democratic vote. "For this he deserves our congratulations in his new office," said state leader and Interior Minister Michael Stubgen. The CDU parliamentary group leader in the Potsdam state parliament, Jan Redmann, said, "Congratulations on the election of the new Thuringian Minister President, Thomas Kemmerich. Everyone would be well advised to take a deep breath now and act prudently."

Congratulations for the prime minister by Bjorn Hocke’s grace, but not a word about distancing by the federal party. The harmony with which Kenya has ruled Brandenburg so far could be put to the test by Thuringia. Because the reactions of the SPD and the Greens are clear. "I am shocked by the events in Thuringia," said Brandenburg’s SPD Secretary-General Erik Stohn. For the Greens, Kemmerich’s election is an "absolute dam break," as state leader Julia Schmidt declared.

In Berlin, too, the reactions of the red-red-green coalition were unambiguous. According to Berlin’s mayor Michael Muller (SPD), the election is a "drastic break for Germany and a low point in our parliamentary democracy. Berlin’s Left Party leader Katina Schubert said that two bourgeois parties had made common cause with "fascists" who were now gaining influence on government policy. She called for new elections.

This was echoed by Green Party state chairwoman Nina Stahr, who said she was "absolutely stunned." "For their own benefit, the CDU and FDP are openly pacting with right-wing extremists and trampling on basic democratic values."

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