June 26th in German History: The Christian Democratic Union is Founded

The 1957 CDU election poster. It reads “No experiments”, emphasizing the party’s message of stability.

The Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, is a center-right party and the current leading party in Germany. It has been the ruling party in post-war Germany, first West Germany and then unified Germany, for the majority of its history. It was founded in Berlin on June 26th, 1945.

The CDU was created in part because of the recognized need for a united democratic party to stand against extremism. The Wiemar Republic had failed because the disparate democratic parties, while together larger than either the Communist or Nazi party, were divided. Thus, the CDU was created as a party that included both Catholics and Protestants and a broad spectrum of moderate, conservative, anticommunist, and even some more liberal voters. In 1950 its first chairman, Konrad Adenauer, was chosen. From 1949 to 1966 the CDU was the dominant party in Germany. Adenauer was Chancellor until 1963. He maintained a pro-western foreign policy and generally favored lower taxes and less government economic intervention. He played a critical role in rebuilding the German economy and creating a stable political system. In 1966 the Free Democratic Party, the third largest party in Germany, broke its coalition with the CDU and joined a coalition with the Social Democratic Party, or SPD. The SPD under chairman Willy Brandt pursued closer relations with the East, or Ostpolitik, while attempting to maintain amiable relations with the West. The CDU was outraged at the 1970 treaties signed with Poland and the USSR which relinquished claims on Germany’s former lands in the East. These treaties caused seven MPs to leave the SPD, leading to a vote of no confidence. However, two MPs from the CDU voted with the SPD, having been bribed by the East German Stasi, and the SPD stayed in power until 1982. From 1982 to 1998 the party was in power again, and it managed the reunification of Germany. The party declined in popularity in the 1990s because of the increased taxes necessitated by reunification. Chancellor Helmut Kohl led the party until its defeat in the 1998 elections, when it lost power and remained in the opposition until 2005. In 2005, the CDU again took power under the leadership of the first female German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Under Merkel’s leadership, the party has pursued a practice of co-opting policies of its liberal opponents in areas such as nuclear energy, minimum wages, and immigration in order to secure more popular support. However, this shift to the left has led to the formation of the AFD, a far-right party that is currently the largest opposition party. This has forced the CDU to enter a grand coalition with the SPD. Merkel resigned as party leader in 2018 and has said that she will step down as Chancellor in 2021. Her successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has voiced support for socially conservative policies, including opposition to same-sex marriage. However, after the CDU party in the state of Thuringia collaborated with the AFD, she resigned following claims that she was unable to maintain party discipline.

The CDU has changed greatly in its seventy-year long history. Where once it was an anti-communist conservative party it has become more liberal and has ceased to emphasize its opposition to communism as that ideology has faded from existence. Its support and commitment to German democracy has helped prevent the rise of extremist parties, and its commitment to good relations with Western Europe and the US has helped to reintegrate Germany with the global community. The history of the CDU is fundamentally linked with German history.

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