On CDU - Melanie Amann, Matthias Bartsch, Sven Becker, Anna Clauß, Jürgen Dahlkamp, Markus Dettmer, Lukas Eberle, Florian Gathmann, Luise Glum, Kevin Hagen, Christoph Hickmann, Markus Kater, Martin Knobbe, Gunther Latsch, Timo Lehmann, Veit Medick, Maik Mosheim, Ralf Neukirch, Marcel Pauly, Sven Röbel, Cornelia Schmergal, Gerald Traufetter, Andreas Wassermann, Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt and Steffen Winter in Der Spiegel:
‘Armin Laschet, the newly anointed head of Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has been a politician for two-and-a-half decades. He knows how difficult it can be, and how quickly things can change. But even he might be getting a bit dizzy these days.
Not even two months have passed since he was elected head of the country's largest, most powerful political party, essentially transforming him into the chancellor-in-waiting and designated successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel. What could possibly go wrong? After all, the coronavirus vaccines had arrived, signaling a path out of the pandemic. It looked like it would be a good year for him and the CDU.
Now, though, nine weeks later, the 60-year-old Laschet is the head of a party that has slumped into its deepest crisis in decades and is struggling in the polls. Even as the country is set to vote in the general election this fall, the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), still haven't agreed on who their candidate for chancellor will be. The Union, as the pairing of the two parties is known, seems unsure of itself on the eve of the campaign. Suddenly, it is looking as though it could be a difficult, even a bad year for the two parties. And for Laschet.’
‘The Union has been in turmoil ever since it became known that to conservative lawmakers are thought to have enriched themselves with business deals involving medical protective equipment – at a time when workers across the country were fearful of losing their jobs, when the self-employed were facing ruin and when doctors and nurses were risking their health. Political representatives benefitting from a crisis that has gripped the entire country is not a good look.
The relationship of the Union parties to money has always been rather distinctive and has led to scandals in the past. That, though, had largely faded from memory over the last two decades, with the CDU under the leadership of the most unpretentious woman imaginable – a woman for whom a hearty German potato soup has always been the epitome of temptation. A woman who only became head of the party because she never had anything to do with slush funds.
Yet now, as Merkel's tenure comes to an end, and with just six months to go until the election, Germany is once again facing pressing questions about the governing party's approach to money.’
‘Ultimately, though, the current troubles of the CDU and CSU have to do with expectations that politicians behave as role models – and their failure to do so. A failure exhibited, for example, by German Health Minister Jens Spahn, who urged the German populace in an October television appearance to avoid social gatherings due to the climbing number of coronavirus infections – only to meet with business leaders for a fund-raising dinner that very evening. And by Klaus-Peter Willsch, a CDU parliamentarian from the state of Hesse, who, as seen in a video, celebrated his 60th birthday with no mask and no apparent regard for social distancing rules – at a time when children's birthday parties were banned across his state.
Germans are tired and the acceptance of coronavirus rules is crumbling. And then it comes out that the rules apparently don't apply to everybody. The timing is dangerous.’
‘Suddenly, the CDU and CSU have produced their largest scandal since the party donation disgrace in 1999. Georg Nüsslein, 51, who was the CSU's pointman in parliament on health policy, stands accused of receiving a 660,000-euro fee for having arranged a multi-million euro deal for the acquisition of medical protective equipment. The alleged bribe money is thought to have ended up in a Caribbean tax haven via a Liechtenstein account belonging to an offshore company. Nüsslein denies the accusations.
Meanwhile, Nikolas Löbel, 34, until recently a CDU lawmaker from Mannheim, offered to obtain masks from a company in Baden-Württemberg for companies working in the health-care sector – and received a fee of 250,000 euros for his services.
Following extreme pressure from the Union, both Nüsslein and Löbel resigned from parliament and cancelled their party memberships. It remains to be seen whether they will face legal consequences. Nor is it clear what will happen with the money they were allegedly paid. Their political careers, though, appear to be finished.
Suddenly, a sense of uneasiness has spread throughout the Union, particularly since the resignation of Hauptmann, who claimed he did so to protect his family. Are there more cases out there of conservative sleaze? Are there others who finagled their way into shady payments for masks or other deals?’
‘But the sheer number of such side jobs some CDU lawmakers have is enough to raise eyebrows. Joachim Pfeiffer, for example, has listed 26 side jobs and functions for the current legislative period. His party colleague Röring has 24 and CDU-man Stefan Kaufmann has 21. Most of them are honorary positions.
Side jobs are not forbidden, but they have been the focus of fierce debate in recent years. After all, being a parliamentarian is actually a fulltime job. How much time can really be leftover for other work? Conservatives tend to have a different view: They say that they are loath to become dependent on holding public office.
For historian Frank Bösch, of the Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam, it's not surprising that conservative parliamentarians are in the center of the current mask scandal. "Because of the specific career structures of CDU/CSU representatives, the danger of private enrichment has grown," says Bösch, who has authored two definitive works on the history of the CDU.
Until 1965, he says, "40 percent of those in the Union were self-employed and, in the ensuing decades, it was a third, with the share slowly shrinking," Bösch says. Among politicians on the left side of the spectrum, though, there has "historically been a different moral approach to the private-sector earnings of politicians" – and greater efforts at transparency. Bösch notes that members of the federal parliament in Germany have been required to disclose earnings from companies and associations since 1972. The chancellor who pushed the law through was Willy Brandt, a Social Democrat.
For years, though, the rules governing the reporting of side jobs have been the focus of significant criticism. They primarily have two weaknesses: Members of parliament are not required to disclose the names of their financial backers in many instances. And the amount must only be roughly noted, from level one (over 1,000 euros) to level 10 (over 250,000 euros).’
‘The CDU's approach to money has always been rather unique. Even Konrad Adenauer, the first head of the CDU and Germany's first postwar chancellor, knew that money was a political resource. When he began, his party had hardly any of it. The CDU's only source of revenues at the time was membership payments – in contrast to the SPD. The Social Democrats had been banned by the Nazis during the Third Reich and received millions in compensation after the war.
From the very beginning, donations were a focus of the very top echelons of the CDU and Adenauer kept a close eye on how the money was divvied up. The disturbing lack of ethics displayed by Chancellor Helmut Kohl in the late 1990s likely stems from those early days. In December 1999, the year after he was voted out of office, Kohl declared that he had accepted up to 2 million euros in donations without reporting them. He never revealed where the money came from.
Kohl wasn't the only one who crossed the boundaries. Wolfgang Schäuble, who is the current president of the Bundestag, was forced to admit that he had, in 1994, accepted 100,000 deutsche marks in cash from the arms lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber in his office. And in 1991, then-CDU treasurer Walther Leisler Kiep received a million marks in an envelope from the same Karlheinz Schreiber in a meeting at a restaurant in Switzerland.’
‘So, what’s left if the CDU no longer even stands for good governance? The unity that used to be the hallmark of the party has also withered. The recent election of the party’s new chair exposed just how divided the CDU is. The party has no political platform yet for the election and not even a central vision for what the CDU intends to do following 16 years of Merkel in power.
The Social Democrats, meanwhile, have already presented their draft election platforms and the Greens are scheduled to do so soon, but the Union doesn't want to present its plans until the summer, shortly before elections. It’s little wonder that impatience is growing. "In terms of content, we should be moving forward,” says CDU national committee member Röttgen. "We need to be presenting the issues and ideas we want to use to win the election. We need clarity, and time is running out.” But it sounds easier than it really is. Laschet only narrowly won the election for chairman and doesn't have much flexibility. He’ll have to listen and work with all wings of the party. What the beleaguered conservatives need right now, though, are clear messages and a clear course.
In some ways, the CDU’s crisis is reminiscent of the decline of the SPD. There’s a lack of contour, there is plenty of conflict, and there is a rivalry between the government and the party's parliamentary group. Recent meetings of Union parliamentarians have descended into attacks on party leaders. Economics Minister Altmaier has been a particular focus of the discontent.
Nervousness is widespread within the party, and a sense of fear can even be sensed in some conversations. It’s no longer implausible that the CDU might lose control of the Chancellery in the next election. So far, neither the SPD nor the Greens have benefited from the downward trend in the Union, but mathematically, only minor shifts are needed. It’s also conceivable that the SPD and Greens could join forces with the business-friendly FDP to form a government with SPD head Olaf Scholz as chancellor.’
‘For Söder, the CSU is a party with its feet firmly planted in the ground – one in which politicians spend their time traveling in second class rather than hanging out in first class lounges. When he affords himself a luxury privately, then it’s something like a large television in the living room, Söder says.
Söder is well aware of his party’s long history of affairs and scandals – and that makes him even more determined to position himself as a blemish-free politician. The mask crisis could have been his moment if it weren’t for the fact that the whole scandal began with the Nüsslein case. With a politician from the CSU.
"He’s still raging,” one member of the CSU’s party executive says of Söder, long after the accusations against Nüsslein first surfaced. The state governor’s office is said to have immediately requested a list from the state’s health ministry of names of members of parliament who have lobbied for mask manufacturers.
But further trouble is also looming. One relationship that is likely to be the subject of closer scrutiny is that between mask lobbyist Andrea Tandler and Monika Hohlmeier, a member of the European Parliament with the CSU. Tandler’s father Gerold and Hohlmeier’s father Franz Josef Strauss were long time friends in the CSU swamp. A year ago, Hohlmeier opened doors for Tandler to Federal Health Minister Spahn.
Tandler then exchanged mails directly with the minister, and the ministry placed a large order from the Swiss company Emix, for which Tandler sought buyers on the German market. Hohlmeier denies any personal gain, but it’s striking: Other suppliers never got responses to their offers, but Emix secured a deal with outrageously expensive masks. With a rumored volume of up to 800 million euros from Spahn’s ministry alone – neither Spahn nor Emix have provided any figures – Tandler is likely to have become a multimillionaire in the meantime given the usual market commissions. She isn’t discussing that either. Florian von Brunn, a member of the state parliament with the Social Democrats has filed a criminal complaint against unknown persons at the Munich Public Prosecutor’s Office because Bavaria also bought from Emix.
The scandal is currently growing more dangerous for the CSU by the day – also for Söder. The Bavarian Health Ministry was also one of the major customers of the apparently well-oiled mask connection. A search warrant shows that anti-corruption investigators recently went looking not only for documents relating to Nüsslein’s company and various offshore firms, but also communication that took place with Alfred Sauter, the former Bavarian state justice minister with the CSU. Sauter drew up the contracts for the mask deliveries to the Bavarian Health Ministry.
Last Wednesday, new searches were conducted in Munich, this time at the home of Michael Kraess, lobbyist with high-level contacts within the CSU leadership. The Munich Public Prosecutor’s Office is now listing him as a defendant and has initiated investigations into him on initial suspicions of "bribery of office holders.” Neither Kraess nor his lawyers could be reached for comment on the allegations by the time this issue went to press.’
‘To win an election, you need troops, he once said internally of the CDU, "not a military hospital.” That was long before three members of parliament had to resign because of scandals within days of each other. And his own party was back at the center of scandals that have haunted it over the years of cronyism and a blurring of the line between politics and business.’
Read the complete article here.
The CDU-scandals have gone largely unnoticed outside Germany – each country gets its own scandals – and Merkel has kept to herself, maybe also in order not to intervene with her successor.
But the sentence ‘the CDU's approach to money has always been rather unique’ is rather damning, and the scandals are numerous.
Keep in mind how Merkel got into power.
The New Yorker neatly summarized it in 2014:
‘In November, 1999, the C.D.U. was engulfed by a campaign-finance scandal, with charges of undisclosed cash donations and secret bank accounts. Kohl and his successor as Party chairman, Wolfgang Schäuble, were both implicated, but Kohl was so revered that nobody in the Party dared to criticize him. Merkel, who had risen to secretary-general after the C.D.U.’s electoral defeat, saw opportunity. She telephoned Karl Feldmeyer. “I would like to give some comments to you in your newspaper,” she said.
“Do you know what you want to say?” Feldmeyer asked.
“I’ve written it down.” Feldmeyer suggested that, instead of doing an interview, she publish an opinion piece. Five minutes later, a fax came through, and Feldmeyer read it with astonishment. Merkel, a relatively new figure in the C.D.U., was calling for the Party to break with its longtime leader. “The Party must learn to walk now and dare to engage in future battles with its political opponents without its old warhorse, as Kohl has often enjoyed calling himself,” Merkel wrote. “We who now have responsibility for the Party, and not so much Helmut Kohl, will decide how to approach the new era.” She published the piece without warning the tainted Schäuble, the Party chairman. In a gesture that mixed Protestant righteousness with ruthlessness, Kohl’s Mädchen was cutting herself off from her political father and gambling her career in a naked bid to supplant him.’
Read the profile here.
In the last polls the Union hovers slightly above the 30%.
I liked Merkel a lot, I would not want to vote for CDU-CSU, after all I’m not yet a German citizen, but one thing is clear to me, a real implosion of the CDU-CSU will help the AfD.
Laschet is not the German Macron, thankfully not, it seems that the period after Merkel will mean an open return to the era Kohl and Strauss: scandals, old boys’ networks, money grubbers disguised as politicians and petty bourgeois norms.
Of course these norms can be found across the political spectrum.