At the very end, the mood at the CSU party conference is suddenly right – when Friedrich Merz is on the stage. The CDU chairman is actually only a guest speaker. But for his aggressive attacks on the traffic light coalition, especially on Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and the Greens, Merz reaped louder applause than the day before CSU boss Markus Söder.
For example when he attacked the management level of the Federal Ministry of Economics as an "ecological self-awareness group". When he says that now must be the time for engineers, not for ideologues. When he castigates the citizens' income as pure "trauma coping" of the SPD. Or when he takes up a topic that Söder had at most touched on in his speech - if at all: the increasing number of refugees. And Merz also received jubilant applause for his attack on the cannabis legalization plans of Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD): "What did the man actually smoke?" he calls into the hall.
Merz obviously hit the nerve of the delegates with his traffic light sweeping, with his conservative position statement, with his pointed, aggressive, freely presented speech - after an otherwise tired second day in Augsburg. "After the speech we can draw hope," says one on the way out.
A somewhat peculiar convention
Otherwise it is actually a somewhat peculiar party congress. "A pure labor party conference," says one defensively. Apart from a few small moments, there is no trace of something like euphoria, of the old "Mia san mia" - but maybe the times are too serious for that?
Nevertheless, Söder can be satisfied. If you ask around among the delegates after his one-and-a-half-hour speech on Friday, the verdicts are pretty similar: from good to very good. That was once again a good determination of the direction, once again more Bavarian accents and not just pure traffic light bashing like a few weeks ago. Söder has apparently taken internal complaints to heart only to look to Berlin.
The more conservative course that Söder has been taking for some time is also appreciated at the party conference. The CSU should not "frantically" look for potential new voters on the left of the center, says Söder in Augsburg, but "in the middle of the bourgeoisie".
With this double strategy he wants to score in the election year: with the reference to his own political projects, to his high-tech agenda, for example ("high-tech and homeland" seems to be one of his central slogans). But also with a critical accompaniment of the traffic light - because there is loud applause when Söder heartily criticizes the SPD, Greens and FDP.
However, there is no sign of any certainty of victory or excessive self-confidence at this CSU party conference. Instead, Söder warns his party against "hubris", i.e. arrogance and pride, which could end up being true. The election is still too far away, too much could theoretically happen. It is also too uncertain what the coming months will bring, how the energy crisis will develop, how serious its consequences will ultimately be. Is that why the overall mood is so serious and reserved?
The fact is: a year before the election date, Söder and the CSU do not have to worry that they will have to vacate the state chancellery, on the contrary. According to all current polls, the coalition of CSU and Free Voters can still count on a clear majority in the state parliament. The Bavarian opposition's dreams of a traffic light in Bavaria seem to have been made out of thin air.
Even if Söder does not have to fear for his re-election given the current situation: the percentage result could be decisive for how long he will remain firmly in the saddle after 2023, at least in the medium term. In the short term, no one will be dangerous to him, even if the figure is less than 37.2 percent - that was the result of the 2018 state elections, according to several CSU delegates.
It is interesting: In the end, the general political situation, the performance of the traffic light coalition could be the deciding factor as to whether Söder will be one or two percentage points more or less. The CSU in Bavaria could ultimately benefit from a persistent weakness in the traffic light - and the possibility of a very sharp demarcation.
At this point, however, individual party representatives start to ponder: In view of the growing criticism of the traffic light, shouldn't the CSU be in a better position in surveys than it was at 37 to 40, once 41 percent? And also because Söder is currently touring around the country day after day?
Merz: Are back in first place
Merz reports there - nationwide - already implementation: "We are back in first place in Germany," he says to great applause, meaning that the Union is again the strongest force in the federal government with 25 and 28 percent in surveys.
The party leaders don't want any competition of any kind to arise at this point, but rather practice close solidarity. Söder clearly focuses on Bavaria and the state elections - and accepts Merz' nationwide claim to leadership. This is also shown by the gift he gives him: a football scarf. It says: "CDU No. 1 in Germany - CSU No. 1 in Bavaria."