Diminishing power

Surprise Bundestag vote ousts Merkel confidant Kauder

Unionsfraktion im Bundestag
Mr. Brinkhaus on the left, Mr. Dobrindt on the right and the chancellor nowhere to be seen. Source: DPA.

Center-right lawmakers in the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament, on Tuesday chose to oust their leader of 13 years in a stunning vote that is the latest sign of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s waning power.

Ralph Brinkhaus, essentially an unknown in Berlin, was elected to become the leader of the conservative parliamentary group in the Bundestag by a vote of 125 to 112 with two abstentions. He beat out Volker Kauder, a confidant of Chancellor Merkel who, in addition to her chancellorship, is also head of the center-right Christian Democratic party.

“This is the beginning of the end of the [Grand Coalition]. The chancellor’s authority within her own parliamentary group has been officially destroyed,” Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of the business-friendly Free Democrats, tweeted.

Because of a quirk of German politics, the conservative group in the lower house is comprised of members of both Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, or CDU, and the Christian Socialists, or CSU, a sister party that exists only in Bavaria. The vote is seen as a victory for the Bavarian party, upset over several immigration-based tussles between Chancellor Merkel and Horst Seehofer, a former CSU chief and now Germany’s interior minister.

Indeed, Die Welt reported that Chancellor Merkel declined to appear before cameras with Mr. Brinkhaus after his victory — he instead posed for pictures with Alexander Dobrindt, head of the CSU’s parliamentary group.

Tuesday’s vote was the first time Mr. Kauder’s leadership of the group was challenged. Mr. Brinkhaus, 50, said the last three years, where Chancellor Merkel welcomed in over 1 million refugees, had only marginalized some voters — pushing them to the populist Alternative for Germany party — and that it was time for renewal. He was diplomatic in his attempts to avoid directly attacking Chancellor Merkel, though she is now severely weakened.

Chancellor Merkel this weekend eked out a compromise in the latest threat to her coalition of the two conservative parties together with the left-leaning Social Democrats. The head of the country’s domestic intelligence service had publicly repeated right-wing conspiracy theories and many politicians called for his head. Instead of firing the spy chief, however, the coalition first agreed to promote him away from his job atop an agency tasked with protecting the constitution.

Following a public outcry and the SPD’s threat to leave the coalition, he was transferred to a less-significant post under Interior Minister Seehofer at the same pay grade.

Andrew Bulkeley is an editor in Berlin for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: a.bulkeley@handelsblattgroup.com

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