Friedrich Merz, the leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), dropped the bomb last weekend. In a TV interview, Merz opened the door for collaboration with Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the nationalist-populist party that is home to Germany’s cabal of crackpots and right-wing extremists. He didn’t say what form such co-operation would take, but talked about finding ways to run local councils when the AfD won democratic elections – which happened a few weeks ago when Hannes Loth won a mayoral race in a small town in Saxony-Anhalt.
The reactions to Merz’s comments came thick and fast. Politicians from the left questioned his democratic credentials. He’s the ‘wrecking ball of democracy’, said Sara Nanni of the Greens. It didn’t help that Merz had ruled out any form of national – even regional – collaboration with the AfD: his own colleagues also blew off steam. Markus Söder, the powerful leader of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) and likely candidate to lead the CDU-CSU union in the next federal election, was quick to distance himself. Kai Wegner, the dull former insurance salesman who won this year’s Berlin mayoralty, said the CDU should never collaborate with a party whose ‘business model is hate, division and exclusion’.
Merz clearly had an agenda. The AfD has had a string of successes in recent local elections and is polling well nationally. It’s now the second largest party in the country, consistently ahead of Olaf Scholz’s governing Social Democratic party. Remarkably, the AfD has almost doubled its support since the last election in 2021. By contrast, Merz – a lacklustre former BlackRock executive – isn’t making much headway. His Christian Democrats are sterile and visionless, still reeling from the long reign of Angela Merkel.