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What has happened to Merkel's CDU?
Economist & Photographer / No. 70
P: Good morning, Economist.
E: Good morning, Photographer.
P: What is actually going on with the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, short CDU, the party of former Chancellor Angela Merkel? It is said that the party has moved to the right under the new chairman, Friedrich Merz. Is that correct, Economist?
E: I want to tell you a little story.
P: If there is no other way.
E: Two vendors sell ice cream on a long sandy beach. Both offer the same types of ice cream; therefore, bathers go to the closest ice cream vendor. The ice cream vendors are now looking for the sales location with the highest turnover: Where will they end up?
P: I'm sure you'll tell me right away.
E: Both will end up next to each other in the middle of the beach.
E: Example. One ice cream vendor positions himself in the middle, the other 100 meters to his right. The seller in the middle has all bathers to his left as potential customers, plus all bathers who are up to 50 meters to his right. Assuming that people are evenly distributed along the beach, the ice cream seller in the middle sells more than their competitor. As a result, the ice cream seller with lower sales will move towards the centre. Ultimately, both ice cream sellers stand next to each other, with the same sales.
P: What does this have to do with the CDU?
E: The ice cream seller story is an analogy. The ice cream sellers stand for parties, and the bathers are voters who are spread from left to right on the beach based on their political preferences.
P: And what should this story teach me?
E: It shows why, when there are two parties in a democracy, the two parties' manifestos become similar over time. Both parties claim the centre because it promises the largest electorate.
P: But there are not only two parties.
E: In the post-war Federal Republic of Germany, the example of the two ice cream vendors described the party landscape well. The voters on the very far right side voted for the CDU because, although the party was far off on many issues, it was politically closer than the Social Democrats, short SPD. It was the same with the voters on the far left side, they voted for the Social Democrats.
P: And today?
E: Today, to stay with the picture, new ice cream vendors have gotten into the business. For quite a while, on the left, the Greens and Die Linke, on the right, only more recently, the AfD.
P: And what does that mean for the CDU?
E: It has to move away from the middle to reach more ice cream buyers/voters, so the AfD ice cream seller can’t do all the business there.
P: This is precisely the path the CDU is currently taking under Merz, away from Merkel's centre policy, right?
P: So, with your explanation, it's a pretty reasonable path that the CDU has taken.
E: Reasonable and worrying. Because if Merz and Co. experience that more potential votes are gained as they walk to the right than are lost in the centre, the party will settle there permanently.
P: They then both sell ice cream to the right of the centre. A funny image, by the way.
E: But what if the CDU needs to cooperate to come into power, and what if there is only the AfD in their political vicinity? A look at Europe shows that – to come to power – new right-wingers form new majority alliances with old conservatives. The promises of the CDU ("never with the AfD") will only be kept if other options for power remain open. Perhaps the Union is in the process of taking the alternative to the alternative.
< silence >
P: Do you sometimes miss Angela Merkel?
E: Everything has its time.
P: You do not have to answer, no problem, Economist.
E: Have a nice day, Photographer.
P: Same to you.