Thursday, September 24, 2009

Well Roared, Bavarian Lion!?

Much has been said about the restrained tone of the 2009 election campaign. However, one voice could be heard loud and clear: The Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU). Horst Seehofer, party chairman and Bavarian Minister President, runs a campaign which has not always been in accordance with the strategy of Angela Merkel and the CDU. On the contrary, the CSU repeatedly provoked with independent positions, culminating in the presentation of a crash program for growth and employment just a week before the election. Needless to say that the Christian Democrats are not amused about the solo attempts of the sister party (although some might have wished their own leadership was more offensive).

But what’s behind the CSU strategy? Above all, the CSU fights for its status as a strong regional party that plays a major role on the national level. The basis for its strong standing in Bonn or Berlin has always been the unchallenged position in Bavaria. More than forty years the CSU was able to govern with an absolute majority. But times have changed since a while. The CSU was defeated in a landslide in the 2008 regional elections. As a consequence a coalition with the FDP had to be built in Munich. It might be hard to imagine from an outside perspective, but coalition building alone means a new cultural experience for many within the CSU ranks – for politicians and partisans alike. The perspective to be the smallest partner in a CDU/CSU and FDP coalition in Berlin does not seem too promising either.

One of the prior goals is thus to distance the CSU from the FDP. That is why the party leadership, first and foremost Horst Seehofer, tries hard to present the CSU as the advocate of the man in the street. Dismissal protection, minimal wages in certain branches, stricter regulations for manager salaries and compensations, all these issues are targeted a) at attracting voters who feel the need for more social justice in this country; and b) against the FDP which is branded as a neo-liberal party. There is no doubt, that the current and prospective coalition partner at the same time is the main rival of the CSU.

The friendly fire from Bavaria disturbs Merkel’s presidential campaign. Yet, a strong CSU is also in the interest of the Chancellor. Firstly, any CSU seat in the parliament counts for the parliamentary group of the Union. Secondly, a wounded Bavarian lion roars even more loudly to demonstrate its strength and independence. Nevertheless Seehofer’s strategy is risky: Possible CSU gains in Bavaria might go at the expense of the CDU in other regions. After all, the competing parties welcome the opportunity to point at the rivalries within the liberal-conservative camp.

Manuela Glaab

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