Angela Merkel, Acting Chairman of the SPD Olaf Scholz and Chairman of the Bavarian CSU Horst Seehofer  Michele Tantussi/Getty Images

Germany’s Populist Temptation

After months of difficult coalition talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel finally managed to establish a new government in early March, only to find that she has a spoiler in her own camp. To shore up his right flank, Christian Social Union leader Horst Seehofer has launched a cold war against Merkel and the German establishment.

BERLIN – Because populism is not an ideology in itself, it can easily appeal to mainstream political parties seeking to shore up flagging electoral support. There are always politicians willing to mimic populist slogans and methods to win over voters, even if doing so divides their own party. This has been proven by Republicans in the United States, Conservatives and Labourites in the United Kingdom, and Les Républicains under the new leadership of Laurent Wauquiez in France.

But the most ominous manifestation of this tendency can be found in Germany’s Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union. The CDU/CSU’s weak showing in last year’s parliamentary election, combined with the unprecedented gains by the populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), has created new schisms within the party grouping.

Other than in the former communist states of East Germany, the AfD’s strongest performance was in the CSU’s stronghold of Bavaria, which will hold local elections in October. Defending its right flank against the AfD has thus become the CSU’s foremost concern.

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