German Chancellor Angela Merkel will rally the conservative faithful this week at their party congress, which is all but certain to jubilantly re-elect her as their unchallenged party chief.
The only real question is whether she will match or even top the 97.94 percent she won in the 2012 vote, the latest such meeting of a party sometimes mocked as the “club for the election of the chancellor”.
While leaders of crisis-battered European countries, such as French President Francois Hollande, face rock-bottom approval ratings and fierce challenges, Merkel — often blamed abroad for deepening the pain with her austerity policies — remains the undisputed ruler of a largely contented nation.
The Cologne meeting of over 1,000 Christian Democrat delegates on Tuesday and Wednesday “will be a vote of support for the chancellor”, said political scientist Tilman Mayer of Bonn University. “Delegates will give their blessing to her policies.”
While Merkel faces the threat of a small but growing eurosceptic party taking away votes from the right wing of her party, the challenge does not nearly match that posed by right-wing populist parties in Britain or France.
The latest monthly poll by public broadcaster ARD attested a 67 percent approval rating for Merkel, whom Germans credit with steering them safely through the eurozone turmoil.
Contrary to reports last week, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy will not attend the event to boost his comeback campaign while basking in the glow of the leader now routinely labelled the world’s most powerful woman.
– ‘Climate of calm’ –
Merkel, 60, has headed the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) since 2000 and has been chancellor since 2005, with no obvious successor waiting in the wings, leaving many wondering whether she will seek a fourth term in 2017.
Since winning a crushing victory a year ago, she has led a “grand coalition” government with a super-sized parliamentary majority in which her vanquished centre-left rivals, the Social Democrats, serve as junior partners.
Jens Walther, of Duesseldorf University, agreed that the party gathering would “be all about the chancellor and her success”.
If the congress has a focus at all other than the leader, nicknamed “Mutti” (Mummy), it is a desire from party ranks to reassert their conservative and business-friendly credentials in the left-right coalition government.
So far, many CDU stalwarts complain, the policy agenda of the grand coalition has been hogged by the SPD and its core demands, social issues ranging from a national minimum wage to a women’s quota in corporate boardrooms.
In a draft paper to be presented at the meeting, the party executive voices support for genetic engineering and the gas-extraction technique of fracking, both controversial in environmentally conscious Germany.
The party would also strongly endorse a planned free trade pact with the United States, call for better broadband networks, support for a start-up business culture and steps to cut red tape for entrepreneurs.
But with few truly contentious issues expected to spoil the party, observers foresee another celebration of Merkel, who has earned additional kudos at home for her Ukraine crisis diplomacy with Russian President Vladimir Putin.