February 20, 2018
Merkel and her friends
The SPD referendum begins today, accompanied by an opinion poll that shows - for the first time - the AfD overtaking the SPD. Insa is usually ahead of the others in picking up big electoral shifts, which means that the first part of the campaign will be accompanied by other polls of the SPD weakening. As we have pointed out before, this constitutes an ambiguous factor of uncertainty in the referendum. It may scare SPD voters into avoiding an election, or it may encourage them to end their own party's misery, especially if they believe that Angela Merkel will end up running a minority government.
The more important political news yesterday is Merkel's appointment of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the prime minister of the Saarland region, as the party's general secretary, the most important party job after the lead, and often a springboard for a future leadership candidate. This was how Merkel got into the job herself. Merkel went out of her way to deny that this has a signal effect. Merkel will make further announcements - about the CDU ministers in her cabinet - on Sunday.
Berthold Kohler makes the point in his commentary that Merkel has chosen the politician who is closest to her, rather than a critic. He says that Merkel does not understand the mood in her party as it confronts the AfD as a rival.
It appears to us that Merkel has a different narrative to those in the CDU who are demanding a shift in politics, and who had hoped that Jens Spahn, the young conservative finance secretary, would become general secretary or obtain a senior ministerial post. It is possible that she might promote him to the cabinet in order to appease her rivals from the right. But the appointment of Kramp-Karrenbauer, known in Germany by her initials AKK, suggests that the party will keep its centrist course.