On Tuesday, Peter Gauweiler MP, Deputy Chairman of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CSU sister party resigned, citing the German government’s position on the successive euro bailouts as the reason. Headlines claimed this spells trouble for Merkel - but how much of a threat is it really?
The straw finally broke the camel’s back on Tuesday as CSU politician and Deputy Chairman Peter Gauweiler resigned. In a public statement, Gauweiler said:
It has been publically demanded of me – because I am CSU Chair – to vote in the Bundestag for the opposite of what I have represented for years before the Federal Constitutional Court and before my constituents, and it [also goes against] how I understand the content of the CSU [party] programme to be applicable. This is incompatible with my understanding of my duties of an MP.
Gauweiler is a vocal critic of his government’s Eurozone bailouts, having rebelled in consecutive Bundestag votes – most recently when he and 28 other CDU/CSU MPs (a record number) rejected the four-month extension the Eurogroup agreed to give to Greece in February. He’d also become notorious for leading the legal challenges against the bailouts at the German Constitutional Court, where he actively fought against the position of the German government and his own party.+
What next for Gauweiler?
Since his resignation the rumour mill has begun. It was spurred on by an invitation from Bernd Lucke, the leader of Germany’s euro-critical Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), to come and join his party. In a statement Lucke said:
“We cordially invite Mr Gauweiler to join AfD, and welcome the fact that he is consistent enough to make clear the failure of the Coalition Government on euro bailout policies by publically resigning from office. [The political parties] are still closing their eyes to reality, and are preparing to provide billions more in taxpayer money to Greece - although the non-cooperation of this country is obvious.
Gauweiler has shown little appetite to move parties. He has been involved with the CSU for close to 50 years, and on Wednesday a CSU spokesman dismissed the idea entirely, stressing that “he’s staying in the CSU.” Attracting such a high profile politician would be a coup for the AfD but it looks unlikely to come to pass.+
This in itself is interesting, as Gauweiler’s resignation is linked to inner CSU politics. It is meant, in part, as a stab at the CSU Chief and Minister President of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer. Seehofer had personally picked Gauweiler, bringing him into the highest leadership circle of the CSU, to fulfill a central function in the elections of 2013 and 2014. Gauweiler was the CSU’s face of criticism for euro-bailout policies. In the words of Thomas Vitzthum of Die Welt, “This was comfortable for Seehofer, he could stand back and loyally follow the path forged by Angela Merkel.”+
But the tension between Seehofer and Gauweiler finally came to a head at a CSU board meeting in early March after Gauweiler voted against the Greek bailout extension, having been warned not to. Seehofer finally threw down the gauntlet, telling Gauweiler that it would have to be “you or me!” Seehofer took the rebellion personally – even more so as other CSU MPs were also disobeying the party line. It was time for Gauweiler to go.
Bundestag rebellion ?
There is no doubt that concern is growing amongst CDU/CSU MPs over the approach to Greece and the continued demand for further transfers from Germany to the rest of the Eurozone in one form or another. More MPs than ever are willing to rebel against German Chancellor Angela Merkel on this issue – reports suggest the number was kept to 29 in the last vote due to personal pleas from Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble.+
It’s also true that Gauweiler’s resignation does not necessarily make things easier for Merkel. The question of a third bailout for Greece has been kicked into the long grass, and the departure of the CDU/CSU’s most prominent bailout sceptic, may force other CSU politicians to articulate their positions more vocally.+
However, we would be wary of seeing Gauweiler’s exit as an augur of bad things to come. Firstly, it cannot be separated from inner CSU politics, and his circumstance is quite specific given his long vocal legal campaign against the bailouts and Eurozone transfers. He is also much further along in his career than many of the other potential rebels, and has less to lose in the sense of political progression. But more importantly, it remains unlikely that Merkel would accept or present a deal to the Bundestag which vastly differs from what her MPs want.
Throughout the Greek crisis she has taken a hardline and made sure to extract significant concessions for any provision of funds. This is not just to ensure support from her party and the general public in Germany, but also because it is what she fundamentally believes is right. As we have noted many times, the most likely outcome of the negotiations is that Greece largely caves to the Eurozone (and Germany’s) terms.+
The attitude and approach of the new Syriza government has certainly soured relations between Germany and Greece. Any future vote on a package for Greece or any other country will be a challenge but is likely to pass – Merkel will ensure it secures the right concessions and reforms while support of the coalition SPD will ensure it passes with a large majority. The public resignation of a senior figure such a Gauweiler is a blow for Merkel and the CSU, but it does not seem likely to be the start of a wider rebellion.