Does the CDU firewall hold up to the AfD?

State election in Saxony-Anhalt Does the CDU firewall hold up to the AfD?

Laschet and Haseloff

CDU boss Armin Laschet and Reiner Haseloff during a press conference. Saxony-Anhalt, with media representatives. Photo: Sebastian Willnow / dpa-Zentralbild / dpa

© dpa-infocom GmbH

CDU politicians in Saxony-Anhalt have often called for an opening to the AfD. Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff rejects this just as clearly as party leader Laschet. But do all CDU members in the country adhere to it?

As if Armin Laschet did not struggle enough four months before the general election: After the victory in the struggle for the candidacy for chancellor with CSU leader Markus Söder, the black sisters are not yet in sight.

The Union is only slowly leaving the Greens behind in the polls. And now the political competition from the opposition and the general secretary of the Berlin coalition partner, the SPD, Lars Klingbeil, barely allows a day to pass before publicly questioning what Laschet and Reiner Haseloff have been asserting for weeks: that the CDU's “firewall” against the AfD.

If the AfD in Saxony-Anhalt is ahead on Sunday despite all the warnings from the CDU grandees in Magdeburg and Berlin about the economic consequences for the country, the shocks should also be clearly felt in the Konrad-Adenauer-Haus, the CDU headquarters. If you ask around in the CDU and CSU, hardly anyone currently believes that the Bavarian Prime Minister is making another attempt to dispute Laschet's candidacy for chancellor.

But the signal would probably also be devastating for Laschet if even a prime minister as popular in the country as Haseloff could not keep the AfD at a distance. Especially since Haseloff had made no secret of the fact that he would have considered Söder to be the better candidate for Chancellor. And Laschet's competitor in the fight for the CDU chairmanship, Friedrich Merz, is considered the darling of the conservatives in the eastern federal states - and not the NRW Prime Minister. The polls for the AfD in the other eastern territorial states - mostly around 20 percent - show that neither the CDU, the SPD nor the Greens have found an effective means against the right-wing populists there.

If after election day in Magdeburg, despite all the assurances, those in the state CDU should feel the upper hand who are secretly flirting with the AfD, the situation could become even more difficult for Laschet. CDU strategists fear that the Greens and the SPD in the federal government will be supplied with election campaign ammunition for months if the state CDU does not adhere to the “firewall” requirements of their leaders.

For the same reason, the AfD in Saxony-Anhalt does not really believe in cooperation with the conservatives. The Konrad-Adenauer-Haus will nip any rapprochement with the AfD in the bud shortly before the federal election, believes AfD top candidate Oliver Kirchner. He is open to cooperation with the CDU and likes to speak of a “conservative majority” from the AfD and CDU in the country.

Kirchner could imagine tolerating a CDU minority government. In no other state parliament is the AfD treated as kindly and collegially as by the CDU parliamentary group in Saxony-Anhalt. "People doze off and drink a glass of wine," says Kirchner. One cultivates good company.

That should hardly flatter the CDU top in the country: Both Haseloff and CDU country chief Sven Schulze assure, whenever they are asked about the relationship with the AfD, that there will be no cooperation with the right-wing populists. Haseloff takes that from the competition - not really his parliamentary group and his party.

Haseloff says the base stands behind his course and points to his strong result in the nomination for the top candidate of 95 percent. At the same party congress, however, places three and four on the state list went to the state parliament members Lars-Jörn Zimmer and Ulrich Thomas. In a memorandum in 2019, they called for coalitions with the AfD not to be ruled out and "to reconcile the social with the national". After the election chaos in Thuringia in spring 2020, Zimmer repeated his call to open up to the AfD.

In the parliamentary group, however, the two were "alone on the ground" with their advance at the time, says CDU parliamentary group leader Siegfried Borgwardt. The parliamentary group still stands by its decision not to work with the AfD. However, Borgwardt does not want to isolate the right-wing populists either. “Delimitation instead of exclusion” is the creed of his AfD policy.

Like Haseloff, Borgwardt is annoyed by the constant questions about the AfD. Haseloff told the news broadcaster Welt on Thursday that the other parties would also have to take votes from the AfD, that could not only be his job and that of the CDU. How often Haseloff has to ask this question depends above all on his own result in the state elections on Sunday. Surveys indicate that the CDU can continue to lead the Kenya coalition as the strongest parliamentary group in the new state parliament. With the FDP, another potential coalition partner would be added.

A majority for Haseloff is very likely, if necessary in the alliance of four, even without the AfD. But if the right-wing populists beat the CDU, the Duz friends of the AfD in the CDU parliamentary group could get a boost. The uncomfortable question of working with the AfD could then, after Haseloff in the country, also accompany Laschet in the federal government through the entire election campaign.