William Cook

How Angela Merkel divided Germany

Crisis? What crisis? Here in prosperous Munich, it’s hard to believe the EU has taken such a battering this year – but then again, the Bavarian capital has always been a place apart. It has the strongest economy and the lowest unemployment of any German city. It is the headquarters of world beating companies such as Allianz, Siemens and BMW. Its cultural scene (and its football team) is among the best in Europe. During Advent, its city centre is especially handsome – a boozy maze of Christmas markets. People are earning and spending, having fun and getting tipsy. I mean to say, what’s not to like?

Superficially, Munich’s residents seem to have little to complain about. On the doorstep of the Alps, with its warm summers and crisp cold winters, their city tops the polls as the place where most Germans would like to live. Germans and Italians call Munich Italy’s most northern city. Milan is nearer than Berlin, and Italians have always flocked here – to work or study or make merry, in an Italianate city where everything works.

Yet if you get talking to a few locals, the situation looks a lot less rosy. Since my last visit, just before Brexit, Bavarians have become more pessimistic, and the main reason – to my mind – is a political system which shackles Bavaria’s ruling party, the Christian Social Union, to its far bigger sister party, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.

On the surface, the CDU and CSU seem pretty similar. They’re both moderate conservative parties, Teutonic Tory Wets. Yet the CSU has always been more conservative than the CDU, reflecting the traditional conservatism of Catholic Bavaria. Normally, this doesn’t matter much – the two parties usually rub along together fairly well. The CSU only ever fields candidates in Bavaria, the CDU fields candidates everywhere except Bavaria, and every four years they team up in the Bundestag, more often than not as the biggest party in the German government.

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