Paul Ziemiak is not to be envied. The CDU General Secretary has been balancing through complicated terrain for months. On the one hand, since the announced withdrawal of his current party leader in February, he has had to do everything possible to appear fair to all successor candidates. On the other hand, since the outbreak of the pandemic, he has had to check everything imaginable in order to finally enable a party congress and thus the election of a successor to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. So far, he has succeeded in the first task. With the second, however, he has not come a step further.
There was no majority for any of the alternatives
Ziemiak therefore stood at the microphone on Monday, quite contrite, to report on the needs of his party after the meetings of the CDU committees. “Corona is fully back,” says Ziemiak. And that is why it is no longer possible to hold the party congress on December 4th in the Stuttgart Exhibition Center as planned, despite a “sophisticated hygiene concept” at the party headquarters. Ziemiak says he is aware of “the great desire for a decision”, especially among the party base. But the CDU must also “show responsibility in the pandemic”. Therefore one will not invite to the party congress now.
So far so unsurprising. This decision had been emerging for days. The number of infections has risen too much recently – and with them the appeals from politicians to please refrain from larger meetings. For many in the CDU leadership, holding a party congress with 1001 delegates simply does not fit.
More problematic than this realization is that on Monday there was no majority in the CDU committees for any alternatives to such a presence party conference. So the party leadership has decided against switching to a digital party conference with postal voting. The idea of spreading the party congress over several halls in the republic in order to meet the hygiene requirements with these much smaller events was also rejected.
That Ziemiak would have liked to try the latter can be seen on Monday. This idea also went back to him. In public, however, he only talks for several minutes about the fact that there have been “good arguments” for and against everything, but that his role is not to say that “one argument is right and the other wrong”. A general secretary cannot be more neutral. But hardly more helpless.
Especially since Ziemiak is now less and less able to prevent the pandemic and how it is handled poisoning the competition for the CDU chairmanship. For the time being, Armin Laschet prevailed, who had already asked for a postponement at the weekend. The Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia justified this with the corona situation. But everyone in the CDU also knows that in surveys of CDU supporters it is still behind today. In the end, it is not the supporters but the delegates who will decide on the chairmanship. But of course the polls also have an effect on the delegates.
Friedrich Merz, on the other hand, ex-parliamentary group leader and Laschet’s sharpest opponent, has identified the postponement of all decisions as an act against himself. Already in the morning he explained that in his view, not having a digital party congress with subsequent postal voting could not be justified with the Corona issue. “There are considerable sections of the party establishment who want to prevent me from becoming party leader,” says Merz. He has now openly declared war on this establishment – and finally made it his opponent.
Norbert Röttgen sounds completely different. The previous outsider in the competition shows on Monday what you say when you want to place yourself between your competitors. Röttgen speaks of a “bitter” postponement, but at the same time praises the CDU, which is proving to be a stability factor in the crisis. Now they need a “reliable plan for the new election”, preferably at a “presence party conference”. That sounds peaceful and won’t leave any scars.
How things will go on now, nobody knows. It is only clear that the previous possibilities of the big CDU for party conferences no longer fit into the new era. Because the party law is quite antiquated. It stipulates that board members may only be elected at face-to-face party conferences. At their last meeting with the Chancellor, however, the Prime Ministers decided that in regions where there are more than 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within a week, there should only be events with a maximum of 100 participants. Exceptions require “a hygiene concept agreed with the responsible health department”. In the district of Esslingen – where the Stuttgart Exhibition Center is located, where the CDU party conference was supposed to take place – the 50 threshold has long been exceeded.
Alternatively, the CDU had planned to hold the party conference in a different location. Because of the widespread spread of the virus, this had to be discarded. Even in East Germany, which has so far been relatively spared, the maps of the Robert Koch Institute are slowly but surely turning red.
A postal vote would probably take 70 days
Only after a change in the law passed at the beginning of October, which will come into force in the next few weeks and only apply during the pandemic, the CDU now also has the two options that were discussed on Monday. You could organize a digital party conference and then have your board of directors elected by postal vote. Electronic voting is not permitted due to security risks. Alternatively, the CDU could split its party congress into different locations. For example, one hundred delegates could come together at ten locations at the same time. The application speeches of the candidates would be broadcast in the halls. A ballot box could then be used immediately at each of these locations. Like postal voting, this is considered safe.
But these two variants are also problematic. In the case of a split party congress, the responsible health department would only have to prohibit the event in one place – and the entire party congress would have been canceled. And with the postal voting option, it would take many weeks for all votes to be over. There would have to be a chairperson election first. Then probably a runoff. Then the party index would have to be determined. Then the rest of the presidium and then the board members. All of that would take about 70 days, says Ziemiak. That also explains why it is so difficult for the Secretary General.