CDU party conference in Hanover: culture war of the conservatives

The CDU narrowly decides in favor of a quota for women and equality. But what the party stands for remains vague.

Friedrich Merz stands at the edge of the picture and looks towards the camera

He of all people enforces the women's quota in the CDU: Friedrich Merz Photo: Fabian Bimmer / Reuters

HANNOVER taz | Kristina Schröder speaks almost imploringly to the delegates. The question is "fundamental" for the CDU, a "point of change," says the former Federal Minister for Family Affairs. "The difference is huge, like a market economy and a planned economy." Schröder means a very short passage in the CDU's new charter of fundamental values. This should form the basis of the party's new basic programme.

According to the draft "gender equality and actual equality between men and women" be the goal of the CDU. Schröder, like many conservatives in the Union, is synonymous with the term equality for everything that you don't want. If the CDU embraced equality, it would be “a bow to left-wing identity politics”. A surrender.

Schröder supports an application that the association of medium-sized companies and the Junge Union have submitted. The advocates of equality argue that the term has long been part of the CDU program. "With the deletion, we would fall behind the year 1986," exclaims Serap Güler, who sits on the federal executive board and notes that the headline "CDU deletes equality" is ugly. Mechthild Heil, member of the Bundestag and chairwoman of the women's group, thinks Equality does not stand for egalitarianism, but for equality: “This is the meaning of equality”.

The debate is about more than the buzzword equality, but it is causing a repressed, cloaked culture war: do you want to be modern? Or a conservative stronghold? Center? Or to the right? A party deals with what it wants to be. This is fairly new for the CDU.

No more family celebrations, but hard debates

At 7 p.m. on Friday, conference president Thorsten Frei said: “We are now coming to the vote. Uh, no just for discussion". There is something characteristic about Frei's slip of the tongue. The debate about the quota for women, like that about equality, is open. You don't know how the party congress will decide - an unusual situation for the CDU, in which a lot goes top down.

Party leader Merz wants a light quota, gradually and initially limited to five years. In order, according to the pragmatic argument, to become more attractive to female voters. But the majority for the CDU leader is not certain. Above all, the Junge Union and the Mittelstandvereinigung, which used to be Merz's fan base, consider quotas and equality to be left-green nonsense.

CDU party conventions are usually more family celebrations than tough program debates. Especially after 16 years of Merkel. Now suddenly there is an open dispute with an open outcome. A party learns to debate.

And she doesn't do it badly at all. The debate is emotional with 34 requests to speak, a touch of real Kulturkampf and surprising front lines. CDU women in particular seem to share the quota, while younger people are against it. "No women's quota in the world ensures that my children are picked up from the daycare center at noon," calls the Paderborn district chairwoman Corinna Gotte. According to the tenor of the thirty-year-olds, you just don't want to be a quota woman and need more digital meetings and family-friendly times.

Older women, on the other hand, are almost all in favor of it. Karin Prien, CDU deputy leader and representative of the liberal wing, coolly counters that the quota is necessary to "share power between men and women". The mood in the hall sways back and forth – younger anti-quota women in particular are cheered.

57 percent vote for the quota

Then Julia Klöckner, ex-minister, steps forward. Twenty years ago she would never have become a member of the Bundestag without the non-binding quorum. And she criticizes the "thigh slapping" of the CDU men, who jeer when young women rail against the quota. Point taken.

And Merz is also the last speaker before the vote for the quota. With success. 57 percent vote for it. It's a close win, but not as close as some expected. Some probably also vote for it because they don't want to dismantle their chairman, especially not so shortly before the Lower Saxony elections. Equality also remains in the Charter of Fundamental Values.

Ironically, under Merz, Merkel's conservative counterpart, who himself was against the quota for a long time, what was not possible in the Merkel-CDU for 16 years.

Is the conflict over and the culture war pacified? The price of Merz's "only Nixon can go to China" appearance is that resentment is growing among those who are defeated, especially his supporters at Junger Union and medium-sized companies. But Merz also feeds the frustrated conservatives: slogans that are also known from the far right. Spontaneous, enthusiastic applause breaks out when Merz campaigns against gendered language in the public sector. "Universities and public service broadcasting are not popular educational institutions," he says. Left-wing people's educators - this image is also popular with the AfD.

Phrases that are more familiar from the AfD

The CDU boss also hammers on the traffic lights with rough tools. He pounces on Economics Minister Robert Habeck, who is making mistakes and is struggling. You can't govern the country just "with children's books and philosophy," says Merz. One is “not in Bullerbü”. Merz is trying to keep the diverging wings together. But that serves an anti-intellectualism that does not suit a party that claims bourgeois virtues for itself.

However, what the CDU actually wants beyond the laboriously contained internal culture war remains vague. Your vision for the future is pale. There is controversy about the compulsory compulsory service – albeit across the camp boundary between liberals and conservatives. The opponents see the freedom of the individual in danger and state education at work.

The supporters see an instrument to keep the drifting apart society together. There are well-known arguments and a surprising result: the CDU wants a compulsory year of service for everyone. Another defeat for the Junge Union, which had vigorously warned against it.

The lead motion on the energy crisis and economic policy was passed surprisingly quickly on Friday afternoon without much debate. The CDU is against the gas surcharge and wants to let the three nuclear power plants run longer. She wants to introduce a gas and electricity cap and a six-month moratorium on private gas and electricity contracts. Poor people should rather get 1,000 euros than all 300, and the increase in the C02-Prize 2023 will not be suspended, as the traffic light decided against the resistance of the Greens. Does the CDU want to be greener than the government Greens? More social than the SPD?

Rather not. The CDU is simply countering the government in order to focus on its weaknesses. The new program is not recognizable even after this party congress.

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