Why 86 cents might throw the CDU into turmoil

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Dear Reader,

Here’s a little article on the CDU’s troubles with the public broadcaster fee. Sounds boring and technical? Well, it’s more dramatic thank you might think…


Jörg & Axel

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Why 86 cents might throw the CDU into turmoil

The decision over whether to increase the Rundfunkbeitrag by a measly 86 cents is turning into a huge headache for the CDU.

Germany’s public broadcaster is a complex monster of regional and national radio and television stations.

Modelled on the BBC, it played a central role in post-war democratization. But it’s €10 billion annual budget is one of the largest in the world. And it is primarily funded by a compulsory €17.50 fee every household pays as a monthly Rundfunkbeitrag.

The increase of the fee to €18.36 has been approved by every state prime minister and “just” has to pass through the sixteen state parliaments in order to come into effect on January 1st.

This would be a mere technicality - if it weren’t for the CDU-faction in the small rural state of Saxony-Anhalt... 

In what is turning into an embarrassment for state prime minister Reiner Haseloff (CDU), and a headache for party big-wigs in Berlin, CDU lawmakers in Magdeburg are refusing to approve the increase.

The far-right AfD, who are mortal enemies of the public broadcasters, are more than happy to vote with them. Together they form a majority in the state parliament. 

Now here’s where it gets messy....

Saxony-Anhalt is governed by a fraught coalition of the CDU, SPD and Greens, whose main point of agreement is that they want to keep the AfD out of power.

The Greens and the SPD claim that the CDU would be crossing the Rubicon by voting with the AfD against the fee increase. They’re threatening to leave the coalition if the CDU doesn’t change its mind.

Any form of co-operation with the AfD is a massive no-no for the CDU’s central leadership. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who had to resign as chairwoman after failing to stop a similar rebellion in Thuringia, has called the AfD “the political arm of right-wing extremism.”

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Every single leading CDU politician in the country (bar one) is calling on the faction in Saxony-Anhalt to change its mind. They fear that the crisis will spread like wildfire from Magdeburg to Berlin and the CDU will (once again) have to defend themselves against accusations of cooperating with the AfD.

Breaking a coalition that includes the Greens would also throw a wrench into the federal leadership’s attempts to flirt with the eco-party ahead of next year’s election.

Markus Kunze, head of the CDU’s faction in Saxony Anhalt, is the man taking the heat. But he has fair arguments on his side:

  • The coalition agreement, signed with the Greens and SPD back in 2016, clearly states that the broadcasting fee should be kept stable. The CDU are actually right to say that it is the other coalition partners that are breaking a promise.

  • Just because the AfD is for something doesn’t mean that it has to be wrong; voting no to the same bill is not the same thing as collaborating. 

  • Germany already has one of the highest per capita spends on public broadcasting in the western world; the €10 billion budget can be compared to the €14 billion that Netflix spends on original programming globally. 

  • One can question the timing of an €1.5 billion budget increase during a national crisis - the extra cash will mainly fund pension commitments for the staff of ARD & Co. 

But, of course, there’s more to it than that. Some suspect that Mr Kunze and his faction have engineered a crisis. His CDU stands far to the right of the national party. Several of his MPs have openly stated that they see more overlap with the AfD than with the SPD and the Greens - a sentiment shared by many CDU-voters in the state.

State premier Reiner Hasselof is in a bind. He’s been able to postpone the vote, but it needs to happen before the end of the year. If he can’t persuade his faction to change their minds his career will be over.

And, oh yeah, the senior CDU politician who has expressed his support for the rebellious fraction is Friedrich Merz


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Who we are:

Jörg Luyken: Journalist based in Berlin since 2014. His work has been published by German and English outlets including der Spiegel, die Welt, the Daily Telegraph and the Times. Formerly in the Middle East.

Axel Bard Bringéus: Started his career as a journalist for the leading Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet and has spent the last decade in senior roles at Spotify and as a venture capital investor. In Berlin since 2011.