The party conference of the CSU took place at the weekend. One of the most important speakers was CDU leader Friedrich Merz. Anyone who takes a close look at his performance will quickly recognize the politician’s strengths and weaknesses.

An opposition leader works through the sounds he sends. tones that reflect his character; tones that describe his ambitions; Sounds, too, which, in the best case scenario, later form a chord with the acoustic signals of the other political players.

For the governing party, it is up to the chancellor. For the leader of the opposition, it’s all about the tone. Is this appropriate to the situation? Does he awaken the hidden longings of the citizens and make them fruitful for his mission?

And then what is perhaps the most important question in the parliamentary democracy of the Federal Republic of Germany: is this tone compatible? Can a passionate soloist become a veritable conductor?

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If you let the tonality of Friedrich Merz’s party conference speech from the CSU party conference at the weekend echo from this point of view, you immediately recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the conservative leader.

1. He warms the hearts of those who were warmed before. The EU’s ban on combustion engines was “obstinate,” and the Greens’ refusal to extend the life of nuclear power plants was “out of sheer ideology.”

The hearts of the believers are racing, and after this festive service their faith is only strengthened. After the combustion engine and nuclear energy, the only thing missing is a commitment to the neck steak. The CSU delegates would have liked to start a La Ola wave.

2. The tone towards the chancellor, on the other hand, ranged from harsh to implacable. “This chancellorship is disrespectful,” shouts Merz, clearly intending to use Olaf Scholz’s favorite word as a weapon against him. But this tone had slipped into shrillness.

It is not disrespectful for the chancellor to make use of his authority to set guidelines. That was – especially after prior coordination with the brawlers – exactly the arbitration that Lindner and Habeck urgently needed.

It wasn’t disrespectful, it was wise not to rush to Bellevue Palace for Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s speech. There is no room for window speeches in a chancellor’s time budget. It is respectful to both the taxpayer and the citizen not to lightly sign Zelenskyy’s wishes for a tank.

3. Merz’s tonality when it came to energy policy was very loud, but extremely dishonest. “It’s not the last 16 years that are the problem, the last 16 weeks are the problem,” he said at the CSU party conference. That could suit him.

Every high school student knows today that the brutal dependency on Russian natural gas did not arise in the past few weeks, but in the past few decades. Angela Merkel and her deputy Olaf Scholz wanted to increase it even further with the construction of Nord Stream 2.

And Friedrich Merz? In September 2020 at the Lower Saxony Day of the Junge Union, Merz – when the US Republicans were already showing resistance – was still firmly at Schröder’s side: “I think we should finish building.”

4. “Putin has to lose this war and Ukraine has to win this war,” Merz called out to the CSU delegates. That sounded like a plagiarism from Anton Hofreiter’s popular hit parade.

The war drum is not the instrument that a majority of Germans would hope for from a bourgeois politician. According to the RTL/ntv trend barometer, a majority of the population wants Ukraine to win, but by no means wants to see the warmonger Putin on his knees militarily.

Not out of pity, but out of realpolitik insight that a deliberately humiliated Putin does not bode well for Europe. Or to put it another way: Merz sends his bellicose tone past the people.

5. Friedrich Merz has once again really given the Greens one. They would only think of “re-education” and “constant tutelage” of people, the Ministry of Economics led by Habeck was a “lobby event for ecology”.

While that’s not wrong, it’s mostly not wise. If you don’t weigh 30 percent of the votes cast yourself, you shouldn’t spit out such tones. The way things are, the CSU and CDU will be unable to form any coalition other than a grand coalition without the Greens.

Anyone who poisons the Greens in this way forces them to side with the SPD and increases their own loneliness. In the future, the Union will need a personality who reconciles and does not divide.

Conclusion: These verbal volcanic eruptions only increase blood pressure, but not the chances of a conservative government takeover. In the end, the decisive questions are: Can Friedrich Merz only be rough, or can he also be approachable?

Is he just tight and taut or is he also likeable? At the weekend he gave the impression that he didn’t want to convince the doubters, but rather encourage Botho Strauss: “Politics”, as the poet once put it, “is an eye that cannot blink.”

Gabor Steingart is one of the best-known journalists in the country. He publishes the newsletter The Pioneer Briefing. The podcast of the same name is Germany’s leading daily podcast for politics and business. Since May 2020, Steingart has been working with his editorial staff on the ship “The Pioneer One”. Before founding Media Pioneer, Steingart was, among other things, Chairman of the Management Board of the Handelsblatt Media Group. You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.