Friedrich Merz is hesitant to launch an attack at the Women’s Union.

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It is certainly not a common occurrence for Friedrich Merz to step onto a stage that is entirely pink and deliver a speech under a banner that reads „From a Women’s Perspective“. The fact that hundreds of women and only a handful of men are listening to him is an unusual sight, surely even for him.

On Saturday, the leader of the CDU will attend the Delegates‘ Day of the Women’s Union in Hanau. And he is venturing into uncertain territory: „Well… none of us are Merzians,“ says Cornelia Geiger-Markowsky from the Women’s Union in Baden-Baden after the speech – and laughs heartily.

Merz ist kein Frauenheld

The Women’s Union is a 75-year-old association of CDU women who may not all identify as feminists but confidently demand an equal place for themselves and their issues within the party. It is not an easy position: even in 2023, only one in four CDU members is female, and only 23 percent of the representatives in the Bundestag faction are women.

Merz ist noch dazu wirklich kein Frauenheld, also streng politisch betrachtet: Vor allem bei den ehemaligen Merkel-Wählerinnen kommt seine Aura eines kühlen Vermögensverwalters nicht gut an. Und auch in der Partei fühlen sich viele Frauen von ihrem Parteichef nicht hundertprozentig ernst genommen, schließlich scharrt Merz in der engeren Führung ja eher einen Boys-Club um sich.  

His visit to the women is therefore a convincing trip: Look, I’m not so bad! The party leader first praises the Women’s Union, stating that it ensures that the CDU becomes „more diverse, modern, and successful.“ Merz reminds everyone that exactly one year ago, he successfully implemented a party internal women’s quota of initially 33 percent for all CDU positions. The goal is to have all positions filled equally by 2025. Warm applause.

Merz even tells the women in the CDU that he needs them: If „significantly more women“ do not come into local offices soon, then „we have no chance of winning the federal elections,“ he declares. First time applause. In addition, he prominently attaches himself to a topic close to the hearts of many Union women: The intention to punish clients and thus curb prostitution, he will personally support as the parliamentary group leader in the Bundestag from now on.

He prefers to remain silent about Thuringia.

Merz is speaking in Hanau for the first time about women’s issues. However, he remains silent about the behavior of his CDU party in Thuringia. There, a few days ago, Christian Democrats lowered the property transfer tax with the support of the AfD – a novelty, as the Union would not have had a majority without the AfD’s votes. Merz had previously ruled out any cooperation between the CDU and AfD at both federal and state levels after some wavering in the summer, and had declared a firewall between the two parties.

Diese Debatte aber will der CDU-Chef auf der pinken Bühne nicht aufmachen. Er spricht nur reichlich allgemein von „Weichenstellungen“, die bei den Landtagswahlen im Osten im kommenden Jahr vorgenommen würden und darüber, dass es unklar sei, wie es mit Europas Modell der Demokratie weitergehen werde: „Ob wir eine Chance haben, damit zu bestehen oder nicht, ist offen.“ 

If Merz is considering how he can maintain his firewall against the AfD in the increasingly complex political landscape of East Germany, then he is not including the women in his party on this day. Some of the participants do not hold it against him, as they believe it is out of respect for women’s issues that should be the focus. Or perhaps because Merz will give a major television interview on Sunday, where he might address it.

There is a noticeable contradiction in the air in Hanau: While the Women’s Union feels more taken seriously by their party leader than ever before, they are hesitant to demand an open discussion on such an important topic. This is despite the motto of the delegate meeting: „From a women’s perspective. Fundamentally!“

Das „Verderben“, das der reine Männerstaat bringt

The long-standing chairwoman of the Women’s Union, Annette Widmann-Mauz, who was re-elected this Saturday, seems to sense this contradiction. At the beginning of the meeting, she recalls Helene Weber, a CDU woman, co-author of the Basic Law, and the first chairwoman of the Women’s Union. Weber emphasized shortly after World War II that she was politically involved because of the „ruin that the pure male-dominated state has brought upon the Republic.“ This can be seen as a subtle reference to Merz and his male alliances. Widmann-Mauz demands that all democrats find solutions together for dealing with the AfD, as even the SPD, Greens, and Left Party in Thuringia have already tasted the „sweet poison“ by advancing smaller parliamentary projects with votes from the AfD.

Propagandaerfolg der AfD

The difference is only this: The propaganda success of the far-right AfD in Thuringia has never been as concrete and financially effective as with the real estate transfer tax. And the women in the Union, who are discussing the decision in Thuringia controversially on all levels, are aware of that as well. Geiger-Markowsky, district chairwoman from Baden-Baden, is disappointed by her party: „No cooperation with AfD – on all levels,“ she exclaims. Especially the women in the Union should be sensitive: „Right-wing populism is always an attack on women’s rights.“ Bundestag member Nina Warken also says that when it comes to dealing with right-wing populists, women may be more sensitive than men: „We women in the Bundestag faction regularly experience the misogynistic behavior of AfD men in the plenum.“ Just because of that, no woman would even consider cooperating with AfD representatives.

Claudia Luckhardt, the deputy chairwoman of the Thuringian Women’s Union, defends her colleagues in the state association: „I appeal to everyone not to pre-judge us. The CDU should be allowed to continue presenting their proposals in the state parliament, just like the red-red-green minority government does. They also do not have a majority of their own.“ Other women in Hanau even suspect a media campaign – didn’t Olaf Scholz recently say that it is impossible to prevent the AfD from attaching itself to its own plans? So why is the CDU being criticized?

However, these are topics for the corridors and lunchtime – on the big stage, the Women’s Union prefers to stick to the official agenda: work-life balance, abortion rights, quota issues. Merz has long since left. Widmann-Mauz called out to him as he left, saying he had spoken „from the heart“ to the women. The women in the Union may gain new self-confidence. However, on some topics, they are no different from the men: they are clueless and not always in agreement. Their idol Helene Weber, who believed that a male-dominated state would bring ruin, would probably not have let Friedrich Merz off so easily.