German conservatives will unveil a strategy to win voters in the absence of Angela Merkel on Monday, as chancellor candidate Armin Laschet seeks to extend his lead ahead of the September election.
After months of damaging infighting, Laschet, the leader of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and Markus Soeder, the leader of the smaller Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), will present the alliance’s manifesto together.
A public spat between the two over who would be chancellor candidate has been one of several setbacks for the bloc in the run-up to the September 26 election, which will be the first without Merkel in 16 years.
However, the conservative alliance has gained traction in recent weeks, winning a landslide in a key regional election and now polling at around 28 percent, well ahead of the Greens, who are in second place with about 21 percent.
Laschet and Soeder appeared in public together on Sunday as a show of unity before a final meeting to finalize the details of their election platform.
“Certainly there were a few moments in recent months where we were in dispute, but we are now on course together,” Soeder said.
After Merkel, what comes next?
The CDU-CSU alliance, also known as the Union, has dominated German politics for 70 years but faces a struggle to rebrand itself without Merkel, who remains enormously popular despite many ups and downs.
As Merkel prepares to resign, the conservatives have faltered, inciting outrage over the government’s pandemic management and a corruption scandal involving shady coronavirus mask contracts.
They lost their usual lead in the polls earlier this year to the Greens, who surged following the nomination of their chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock.
However, according to a poll conducted for the RTL broadcaster last week, Laschet is Germany’s top choice to replace Merkel, with 23 percent, beating out Baerbock for the first time since they both threw their hats in the ring.
Laschet has long been a close ally of Merkel, and he has pledged to keep the chancellor on her moderate centrist path.
According to a draft seen by German media, the new manifesto will adhere to the conservative dogma’s economic foundations — no tax hikes and no new debt rule.
Prior to the meeting on Sunday, Laschet stated that tax increases would be “poison” for Europe’s largest economy and called for a “decade of modernization.”
The manifesto is also said to include a plan to increase pension payouts for those who work longer hours — a proposal that has sparked outrage on the left. In terms of foreign policy, it reportedly opposes Turkey’s accession to the EU and calls for a united front between Europe and the United States against China.
However, the conservatives’ climate policy may be the most closely scrutinized, given that the Greens are shaping up to be not only their closest competitor but also a potential coalition partner following the election.
Laschet responded to Baerbock’s statement that gasoline prices should rise by saying that the “energy transition must be socially acceptable.”
In an interview with Bild am Sonntag, Soeder also attacked the Greens, accusing them of scoring “one own goal after another.” “Instead of making policies for the centre, they are becoming the party of flight bans, speed limits, and tax hikes,” he said.
Conservatives were already facing criticism for failing to take meaningful climate action. “No one needs to change their lives for the Union,” the weekly Die Zeit observed.
According to the Tagesspiegel, “anyone reading the proposals on climate policies would not immediately realize it is a battle against a human catastrophe.”