Angela Merkel’s defeat of the CDU/CSU has been misunderstood as a rupture. From a broader perspective, there is also another interpretive problem: many analysts have underestimated the structuring role of Christian Democracy (CD) in the formation of contemporary Germany and continental Europe itself in the postwar period, which explains its resilience.
There are elements of disruption but they are minimal. The election winner —Olaf Scholz— is the current finance minister of the grand coalition, made up of the CDU/CSU and SPD, and led by Merkel. The SPD won the elections with the lowest percentage of votes ever recorded by the most voted party. This is explained by the growing fragmentation of party systems in OECD countries. We are far from the historical pattern in which social democratic and socialist parties obtained expressive votes. The surprise was the poor performance of the green party, which had become the second largest party, and for those who still believed in the radical populist threat, the involution of the AfD.
The large postwar European countries were all ruled by the DC, with the exception of the United Kingdom (the total population of the small Nordic countries amounts to only half that of countries like Italy). Before Merkel, Adenauer was chancellor (1949-1963) and led the CDU/CSU in the German constituent (1949), when the party held 40% of the seats in parliament. That was the era of the German economic miracle and the successful consolidation of democracy. The party returned to control the country for another 16 years between 1982 and 1998, under Kohl, of whom Merkel was a protégé. Adenauer has been called the father of contemporary Germany, but the epithet grandfather would have been more appropriate; he left the post of chancellor at the age of 87.
In “What is Christian Democracy?: Politics, Religion and Ideology” (2019), Carlo Accetti argues that DC is behind two historical processes, mistakenly associated exclusively with social democracy and liberalism: the welfare state and the European Union. Until 1998, DC ruled Italy for 47 of the 52 years since World War II; Germany, for 36 (out of 50 years); Belgium, 47 (53); the Netherlands, participating in coalitions, in 49 (53) as well as smaller countries.
In France, DC (represented by the MRP) was eclipsed by Gaulism but provided prime ministers and great political and intellectual leaders. Its leader in the country —Robert Schulman— was, together with Adenauer and De Gasperi, the main architect of the European Union. Yes, it is worth remembering that the three leaders were devout Catholics, but DC was not confessional in character, and advocated a social market economy and liberal democracy.
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