Merkel’s Next Crisis

BERLIN – With Europe bogged down by the financial crisis and its national governments failing or being voted out of office across the continent, Germany has looked like an island of prosperity and stability. Chancellor Angela Merkel has appeared to be the embodiment of the new strength of old Europe’s problem child, a country admired by some and hated by others.

But that was last month. Since then, the country’s president, Christian Wulff, who was elected with Merkel’s support, has been forced to resign, owing to mistakes he made as Minister President of Lower Saxony. Befittingly, his fall came at the high point of German carnival: while Catholics in Germany’s West and South celebrated, East German Protestants in Berlin consolidated their hold on power. Germany will have a Protestant pastor as its head of state, in addition to being governed by a Protestant pastor’s daughter.

This is hardly an issue for ordinary Germans, because religion plays almost no role in German public life (so long as the religion in queston is not Islam). But it is a huge issue for the main governing party in Germany, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and even more so for its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

Both parties are successors to the Catholic German Center Party, which fought against Protestant predominance in Prussia and Bismarck’s Reich. With the backing of Catholic majorities in western and southern Germany, the CDU and the CSU have been the traditional governing parties in the post-war German Federal Republic since the days of Konrad Adenauer. Loud grumbling over the protestant ascendancy can be expected within both parties.