Peter Tauber has served since 2009 in Germany’s lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, as a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union. The 42-year-old was appointed as the party’s secretary general in 2013, and has pushed in particular for the CDU to recruit more young people, women and migrants.
As a student, Mr. Tauber studied philosophy, history and political science at Goethe University in Frankfurt, and was also active in the Junge Union, the youth organization and training ground for future leaders in the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union.
In a recent interview with Tagesspiegel, a sister publication of Handelsblatt, Mr. Tauber talked about challenges facing the CDU and the biggest question of all: Will Chancellor Merkel, the longest serving head of state in Europe, run again as chairman of her party in 2017?
The Union (Germany’s conservative alliance between the CDU and CSU) is at 30 percent in the national polls. After the poor performance in regional elections in Mecklenburg state last month, the term “Merkel handicap” has been making the rounds. Is Angela Merkel still the right candidate for chancellor in 2017?
Other polls put us at 33 or 34 percent. But I’m not happy with that either. We are committed to being the most powerful party after the federal elections and being able to continue governing this country well. And I know that many citizens want Angela Merkel to continue serving Germany. Almost 70 percent say she is doing a good job as chancellor — if that were the CDU’s rating, I would be happy.
Then she must continue what she is doing!
It isn’t the secretary general who announces she is running, rather Angela Merkel herself, at the right time.
On the other hand, is it at all conceivable that the CDU will enter the election without Ms. Merkel, if she says: “Thanks, but I’ve had enough?”
That reminds me of what the German poet Friedrich Rückert once wrote: “Comply with the times, fulfill your space. And also leave it in confidence — there is no lack of replacements.” There is always an alternative. But it isn’t always the better one. And in this case none would be preferable.
Let’s narrow down “the right time.” At the beginning of December, the CDU will vote for a new chairman at its party conference. Could Ms. Merkel run for that without declaring her candidacy ahead of time?
Angela Merkel has said herself that she sees a close connection between the two offices, especially in an election year. But up until the party conference there are still a lot of opportunities to announce news. And there is also a lot left to do: We have the CDU’s closed executive meeting; we have the joint congresses of the CDU and CSU; and afterward, a meeting of both Union parties. For me, it is important that we send the message by the end of the year that the CDU and CSU are a union and are fighting together to see to it that Red-Red-Green (a coalition of center-left Social Democrats, the left-wing Linke party and the Greens) don’t govern this country. That is what we are working on.
The Union doesn’t currently equate to “unity.” Its motto, “Marching separately, but striking together,” is now more like “Striking together against each other” . . .
I must disagree with that: The CDU has not struck! Moreover, the CDU and CSU have initiated a very great many things together, from the asylum package to the integration act.
Factually, that is correct. But what citizens have mostly seen is Chancellor Merkel and Horst Seehofer (the head of the CSU) in a face-off for a whole year. How can this deep personal crisis be settled?
Naturally, personal issues also play a role in politics. But at the end of the day you can expect politicians to work professionally together. Otherwise not a single coalition would work. After a dispute, you have to find a level where you can say, in the greater interest and that of the country, we will work again in a spirit of trust and put aside wounds and calluses. And that can be done, as can be seen in the inheritance tax or in federal and state finances.
Would it be helpful if, after Angela Merkel admitted making mistakes herself, that the head of the CSU would also say something like: “It was wrong of me to accuse her of a ‘rule of injustice’.”
I don’t presume to prompt the CSU leader. What we in the Union must change is the impression that there is no good will between us. A year ago at its party conference, the CDU approved a comprehensive program to significantly reduce the number of refugees. I can’t think of many party resolutions that were later so concretely implemented. The CDU and CSU might argue about methods and measures. But we shouldn’t say we don’t have a common goal.
Somehow we still can’t imagine what a joint CDU-CSU election campaign would look like.
I am convinced that in this election campaign it will be about how we see our country going forward. Angela Merkel has quite aptly described it with her words: “Germany will remain Germany.” We are a strong country; we are a self-confident nation and know what we treasure about Germany — this strength, but also the openness.
We can easily argue about whether we can, as a great exporting country, draw back and focus on ourselves, as the Alternative for Germany [a populist anti-European party] suggests — away from Europe and away from the rest of the world. But I don’t believe that.
Does openness mean we must accept people like suspected terrorist Jaber Al-Bakr (the Syrian migrant who was arrested in a bombing plot earlier this month and then hung himself in prison?)
Such a danger does exist and cannot be fully excluded in a free society. But we must do our utmost to reduce the dangers. As prevented attacks show, we have already done a great deal. Beyond that there are still areas that need work, such as the exchange of information between legal authorities. But I want to continue to live in a free and open society, which accepts the difficult balancing of freedom and security.
If we correctly interpret recent election results and opinion polls, then many — particularly among CDU supporters — think security is more important. They say, “we don’t want more and more people coming to Germany, and that we’re managing fine by ourselves.”
I am the secretary general of the party. I take the constitution seriously and the resolutions of my party conventions. People fleeing war and persecution must be given refuge. But a false image has been created on one point: These people are not supposed to stay permanently in Germany. When the grounds for asylum no longer exists, for example because the war is over, they must return to their homeland.
That’s not the same as people we have brought here in our interests as workers. This difference is important if we want to maintain the acceptance of immigrants. There is also no variance on this between the CDU and CSU. The CDU speaks of a law on immigration; the CSU of a law on limiting immigration. But in light of Germany’s aging workforce, the fact is indisputable: We need people who fit in with us.
Who fits in with us?
People who are industrious, who know the country they are coming to, and who share our values and convictions.
No matter the religion?
Independent of their religion or color of skin.
How many should come?
That cannot be a blanket determination, but must be made depending on the labor market. That can fluctuate year to year.
Are we getting flexible upper limits?
I know that term interests you.
Not us. The CSU.
I don’t know if you have to call it that. It certainly doesn’t make sense to set a number once and for all. Our needs also depend on how digitalization and automation progress.
Do you at least have an appreciation for the concerns of the CSU behind the term “upper limit” — namely giving the people a guarantee that there won’t be a repeat of something like last year (when nearly 1 million migrants arrived in Germany).
There is nothing to gain by deciding on a limit. The fact is, the CDU also doesn’t want a repeat of last year and we have achieved that goal for this year. So far the course has been successful and we must work so it remains that way in the future. I see anything else to be a pretty abstract debate, far from the actual issues facing us now.
Yes, the issues of assimilation, of language courses, of integration into the labor market — perfectly practical issues on a local level. Take the subject of deportation. We now have an agreement with Afghanistan. Many refugees coming from Afghanistan will have to return to their homeland because there are also safe regions there. But I know some town mayors who say, “Well, our Afghans are already so well integrated.” Incidentally, these are the same mayors who were demanding even quicker deportation a year ago. We will still have interesting debates on that. But what is important is that integration often failed before because we didn’t properly carry it out. We know what to do now — and we are doing it.
Do you believe that optimism is enough to win voters back from Alternative for Germany (AfD)?
Of course I would like to have voters who used to vote for the CDU back with us again, in fact, no matter how they are voting today. But you have to take a close look at the AfD. Only some of their voters come from the Union; the rest were voting for other parties before. Even if we win back all of our former voters, the AfD would still be sitting in parliaments. I see a chance to bring people back who are concerned about security. Domestic security and industrial security are the Union’s core competencies. But not everyone can be won back. People who shout “traitors of the people,” who would rather have the Russians as partners than the Americans, or who are fighting a united Europe, they don’t fit in with Germany’s CDU. And I won’t change my position to suit them.
You have stipulated that there can be no governing against the Union. Can the CDU envisage a three-party coalition?
We have already. Seriously, I would like to look at the dance floor on election night and not only see (Social Democratic leader and coalition partner) Sigmar Gabriel standing there, but others as well. And that we can see with whom we could implement the most CDU policies.
Which brings us to three or four party coalitions.
I wouldn’t be so sure about that. In my homeland, the state of Hesse, the CDU and Green government has a very stable majority in the polls.
This article originally appeared in the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org