The Sounds of Silence – When will Merkel take up the Fight?
March 1, 2017
By FTI Consulting
Angela Merkel has been known to be a reactive politician: not tempted to rush into decisions, showing careful consideration in foreign policy and seeking maximum consensus with the coalition partner SPD (Social Democrats). At the same time, she has very effectively followed her very own agenda and been extremely successful with it. Before Martin Schulz was nominated in early February as the SPD candidate for the federal elections, the Christian Democrats (CDU together with its sister party CSU) were leading way ahead in the polls, and Merkel, or “Mutti” as some like to call her, still had a strong prospect of four more years in office.
However, like we’ve seen elsewhere, the given truths aren’t true anymore, and SPD with their new white hope Martin Schulz has been riding on a wave of “Schulzomania”, and is now on par in the polls with CDU/CSU. Schulz is literally drawing voters from left, right and centre, playing, in general terms, with the themes of “more social justice”, “higher wages”, “fairer pensions”. Schulz’ sudden success has taken many by surprise, especially the CDU/CSU, from whom we’ve only been hearing the sounds of silence.
Why is that?
Of course, Schulz is freer to be the noisy campaigner, while Merkel is busy running a government. But this cannot be the only factor. It seems that CDU/CSU has been caught largely off-guard and is only just beginning to gather campaign themes and formulate language. And of course, Merkel’s restrained and dry leadership style is not helping here.
Very slowly, the party’s working groups are coming out with selective ideas. First out being the finance and economic policy committee, which just declared the possibility of cash payments as “an indispensable element of a liberal civic society” (see F.A.Z., 28.02.2017). Further, their proposal includes some well-known elements, like an increase of the threshold for the highest tax rate, a phasing out of the solidarity surcharge (stemming from the time after reunification) and further tax simplifications. All in all, these arguments may sound well in the ears of the classical CDU/CSU voter, but they are relatively complex and won’t serve to counter a campaign promising higher wages.
So, when will Merkel take up the fight?
CDU and Merkel will have to find a voice that resonates against Schulz’ passionate diction, a language that reflects a passion for the job of leading the country. In short, the Chancellor will have to re-invent herself. And her party colleagues are getting impatient. According to media reports she had planned a late start for her campaign, and a CDU/CSU manifesto would be published only after the G20 summit in Hamburg in early July. But Merkel may not have this much time to start the offensive if Schulz’ popularity continues. On the way to federal elections on 24 September, there are major elections in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein on 7 May and in the large industrial state of North-Rhine-Westphalia on 14 May. Maybe she will use these as platforms to show her fighting mode. Her party colleagues would be relieved.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees.
Ms. Ledosquet joined FTI Consulting’s London office in 2000 and advised clients from various sectors in strategic communications, initially focussed on financial market communication and international assignments. After moving back to Germany in 2005, she supported clients in corporate and change communication. Since 2010, Ms. Ledosquet co-heads FTI Consulting’s Berlin based public affairs practice covering predominantly energy, finance and consumer protection policy. Prior to FTI Consulting, she was international communications manager at British Airways plc.