In September, three East German states – Saxony, Thüringen and Brandenburg – will hold elections for state parliament. Alternative für Deutschland are now by far the strongest-polling party in each of these states. In Saxony, for example, they are polling at an-time high of 37%:
The SPD – the party of federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz – has fallen to just 3% support here, well below the threshold for entering parliament, and support for the liberal FDP has all but evaporated. If these were election results and the Saxon chapter of the CDU insisted on retaining its cordon sanitaire against the AfD, it would have to enter a coalition with either the Left Party (Die Linke) or the Greens or both. This would force the CDU to continue its association with leftist policies that are deeply unpopular with its base, doing further long-term damage to the Union.
The latest poll from Thüringen likewise has the AfD at 36.5%, and when somebody bothers to poll Brandenburg again, we’ll almost surely see similar AfD gains there. Unfortunately, it is very hard to peel support from the CDU, even in East Germany; a lot of people from my parents’ generation will just never stop voting for them, no matter what they do. This is why I think, in the present landscape, the ceiling for AfD support in the East stands at around 40%. In Saxony, this is just short of the outright majority necessary to govern alone without any partners.1
The pressure, however, is building within the CDU. Somehow, some way, something will give, and that something might just be a small faction within the CDU/CSU known as the WerteUnion, or the Values Union. The WerteUnion was founded in 2017 by right-leaning members of the Union parties in response to Angela Merkel’s constant flirtations with the left. The WertUunion understands itself as a traditionalist conservative movement within the party, although CDU leadership refuses to extend the faction formal recognition and regards it with hostility.
Among the WerteUnion founders is Hans-Georg Maaßen, a lawyer and former president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
Maaßen has become an increasingly outspoken opponent not only of the CDU but of German politics in general. In response, the CDU under Friedrich Merz has further alienated him by instituting proceedings to kick him out of the party, even though Maaßen supported Merz’s candidacy to lead the party.
This week, Maaßen announced his plans to split from the CDU and make the WerteUnion into its own party. If the membership agrees, as it almost certainly will, the WerteUnion could field candidates in the upcoming East German elections. Maaßen says the move is necessary because the CDU establishment under Merz has insisted on “continuing … the left-wing course” set by Angela Merkel, and has “failed to realize that the catastrophic state of Germany and are not prepared to deal with Merkel’s disastrous policies.” The WerteUnion will “go its own way,” Maaßen has said, and – crucially – it will “tear down all firewalls.”
By that, Maaßen means that his party will cooperate with the AfD, a step the CDU has long refused. Come the fall, in other words, there will be a new party ready to receive the support of traditional CDU voters who have been alienated by Merkel’s centrism but cannot bring themselves to support the evil populists of the AfD. Note that the WerteUnion wouldn’t have to be wildly successful to change the political calculus. If they can capture just 5% of CDU support in Saxony, they would have enough seats in the Landtag to form a coalition with the AfD. This is clearly the strategy that Maaßen has in mind.
Now, it is very hard to predict the prospects of a party that has yet to exist. Electoral success depends heavily on grassroots organization at the local level, which is something you can’t call into existence overnight. The establishment is accordingly sceptical of Maaßen’s manoeuvre. It is just undeniable, however, that the political landscape in Germany is changing. The CDU, having ignored Franz Josef Strauß’s warning about failing to incorporate political movements to the right of the Union, is in long-term decline; if the WerteUnion doesn’t succeed in splitting its voter base, others will try. There has long been speculation that the more conservative Bavarian CSU may try to do this by fielding candidates nationally. The SPD, meanwhile, having forgotten their socialist commitments to the working class, increasingly have no constituency at all, while the FDP are poised to disappear from the electoral map entirely. Finally, Sahra Wagenknecht has already split Die Linke (the heir to the DDR-era SED), with her initiative to found her own socialist immigration-sceptic operation.
Presently, the only parties with any vitality and future prospects are the Greens and the AfD. In the coming years, I expect the Green Party to assimilate the German left, while a range of immigration- and Euro-sceptic parties emerge to compete with AfD on the right. The cordon sanitaire can’t last in this environment; either the CDU will drop it or they’ll be hollowed out by rivals who will.
Because 15% of the vote, in the latest Saxon poll, is spent on parties that don’t meet the 5% threshold for representation in the Landtag, any party with more than 42.5% of the vote will have a majority of parliamentary seats.