Christian Democratic Union of Germany

The Christian Democratic Union of Germany (German: Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands or CDU; German pronunciation: [ˈkʁɪstlɪç ˌdemoˈkʁaːtɪʃə ʔuˈni̯oːn ˈdɔʏtʃlants]) is a Christian-democratic,[2][3] liberal-conservative[4] political party in Germany. It is the major catch-all party of the centre-right in German politics.[19][20] The CDU forms the CDU/CSU grouping, also known as the Union, in the Bundestag with its Bavarian counterpart the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU). Founded in 1945 as an interdenominational Christian party, the CDU effectively replaced the pre-war Catholic Centre Party, but also included politicians of other backgrounds, liberal and conservative.[21] The party therefore claims to represent "Christian-social, liberal and conservative" elements.[22]

Christian Democratic Union of Germany

Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands
ChairpersonAnnegret Kramp-Karrenbauer
Vice ChairpersonsVolker Bouffier
Silvia Breher
Julia Klöckner
Armin Laschet
Thomas Strobl
Secretary GeneralPaul Ziemiak
Founded26 June 1945 (1945-06-26)
HeadquartersKlingelhöferstraße 8 10785 Berlin, Germany
Youth wingYoung Union
Membership (January 2019) 415,000[1]
IdeologyChristian democracy[2][3]
Liberal conservatism[4]
National conservatism[10]
Economic liberalism[11][12]
Political positionCentre-right[13][14][15][16][17]
National affiliationCDU/CSU
European affiliationEuropean People's Party
International affiliationCentrist Democrat International
International Democrat Union
European Parliament groupEuropean People's Party
Colours     Black (customary)
     Red (logo)
Black-red-gold (corporate design)[18]
200 / 709
22 / 69
State Parliaments
492 / 1,866
European Parliament
23 / 96
Ministers-president of states
6 / 16
Party flag

The leader of the CDU is Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. She is the successor of the former party leader Angela Merkel, who is the current Chancellor of Germany. The CDU is a member of the Centrist Democrat International, International Democrat Union and European People's Party (EPP).


Founding period

Immediately following the collapse of the Nazi dictatorship at the end of World War II, the need for a new political order in Germany was paramount. Simultaneous yet unrelated meetings began occurring throughout Germany, each with the intention of planning a Christian-democratic party. The CDU was established in Berlin on 26 June 1945 and in Rheinland and Westfalen in September of the same year.

The founding members of the CDU consisted primarily of former members of the Centre Party, the German Democratic Party, the German National People's Party and the German People's Party. Many of these individuals, including CDU-Berlin founder Andreas Hermes, were imprisoned for the involvement in the German Resistance during the Nazi dictatorship. In the Cold War years after World War II up to the 1960s (see Vergangenheitsbewältigung), the CDU also attracted conservative, anti-communist former Nazis and Nazi collaborators into its higher ranks (like Hans Globke and Theodor Oberländer). A prominent anti-Nazi member was theologian Eugen Gerstenmaier, who became Acting Chairman of the Foreign Board (1949-1969).

One of the lessons learned from the failure of the Weimar Republic was that disunity among the democratic parties ultimately allowed for the rise of the Nazi Party. It was therefore crucial to create a unified party of Christian democratsa Christian Democratic Union. The result of these meetings was the establishment of an interconfessional (Catholic and Protestant alike) party influenced heavily by the political tradition of liberal conservatism. The CDU experienced considerable success gaining support from the time of its creation in Berlin on 26 June 1945 until its first convention on 21 October 1950, at which Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was named the first Chairman of the party.

Adenauer era (1949–1963)

In the beginning, it was not clear which party would be favored by the victors of World War II, but by the end of the 1940s the governments of the United States and of Britain began to lean toward the CDU and away from the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The latter was more nationalist and sought German reunification even at the expense of concessions to the Soviet Union, depicting Adenauer as an instrument of both the Americans and the Vatican. The Western powers appreciated the CDU's moderation, its economic flexibility and its value as an oppositional force to the communists which appealed to European voters at the time. Adenauer was also trusted by the British.[23]

The party was split over issues of rearmament within the Western alliance and German unification as a neutral state. Adenauer staunchly defended his pro-Western position and outmanoeuvred some of his opponents. He also refused to consider the SPD as a party of the coalition until he felt sure that they shared his anti-communist position. The principled rejection of a reunification that would alienate Germany from the Western alliance made it harder to attract Protestant voters to the party as most refugees from the former German territories east of the Oder were of that faith as were the majority of the inhabitants of East Germany.[23]

The CDU was the dominant party for the first two decades following the establishment of West Germany in 1949. Adenauer remained the party's leader until 1963, at which point the former minister of economics Ludwig Erhard replaced him.[24] As the Free Democratic Party (FDP) withdrew from the governing coalition in 1966 due to disagreements over fiscal and economic policy, Erhard was forced to resign. Consequently, a grand coalition with the SPD took over government under CDU Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger.

Opposition against social-liberal governments (1969–1982)

The SPD quickly gained popularity and succeeded in forming a social-liberal coalition with the FDP following the 1969 federal election, forcing the CDU out of power for the first time in its history. The CDU/CSU were highly critical of Chancellor Willy Brandt's "change through rapprochement" policy towards the Eastern bloc (Ostpolitik) and protested sharply against the 1970 treaties of Moscow and Warsaw that renounced claims to the former eastern territories of Germany and recognised the Oder–Neisse line as Germany's eastern border. The Union parties had close ties with the Heimatvertriebene associations (Germans who fled or were expelled from the eastern territories) who hoped for a return of these territories. Seven Bundestag members, including former vice chancellor Erich Mende, defected from FDP and SPD to the CDU in protest against these treaties, depriving Brandt of his majority and providing a thin majority for the CDU/CSU. In April 1972 the CDU saw its chance to return to power, calling a constructive vote of no confidence. CDU chairman Rainer Barzel was almost certain to become the new Chancellor. But not all parliamentarians voted as expected (it was later revealed that two CDU/CSU deputies had been bribed by the East German Stasi): Brandt won the vote and stayed in office. Thus, the CDU continued its role as opposition for a total of thirteen years. In 1982, the FDP withdrew from the coalition with the SPD and allowed the CDU to regain power.

Kohl era (1982–1998)

CDU Chairman Helmut Kohl became the new Chancellor of West Germany and his CDU/CSU–FDP coalition was confirmed in the 1983 federal election.

After the collapse of the East German government in 1989, Kohl—supported by the governments of the United States and reluctantly by those of France and the United Kingdom—called for German reunification. On 3 October 1990, the government of East Germany was abolished and its territory acceded to the scope of the Basic Law already in place in West Germany. The East German CDU merged with its West German counterpart and elections were held for the reunified country. Public support for the coalition's work in the process of German reunification was reiterated in the 1990 federal election in which the CDU–FDP governing coalition experienced a clear victory. Although Kohl was re-elected, the party began losing much of its popularity because of an economic recession in the former GDR and increased taxes in the west. The CDU was nonetheless able to win the 1994 federal election by a narrow margin due to an economic recovery.

Kohl served as chairman until the party's electoral defeat in 1998, when he was succeeded by Wolfgang Schäuble. Schäuble resigned in early 2000 as a result of a party financing scandal and was replaced by Angela Merkel, who remained the leader of the CDU until 2018. In the 1998 federal election, the CDU polled 28.4% and the CSU 6.7% of the national vote, which was the lowest result for CDU/CSU since 1949 and a red–green coalition under the leadership of Gerhard Schröder took power until 2005. In the 2002 federal election, the CDU and CSU polled slightly higher (29.5% and 9.0%, respectively), but still lacked the majority needed for a CDU–FDP coalition government.

Merkel era (2000–2018)

In 2005, early elections were called after the CDU dealt the governing SPD a major blow, winning more than ten state elections, most of which were landslide victories. The resulting grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD faced a serious challenge stemming from both parties' demand for the chancellorship. After three weeks of negotiations, the two parties reached a deal whereby CDU received the chancellorship while the SPD retained 8 of the 16 seats in the cabinet and a majority of the most prestigious cabinet posts.[25] The coalition deal was approved by both parties at party conferences on 14 November.[26] Merkel was confirmed as the first female Chancellor of Germany by the majority of delegates (397 to 217) in the newly assembled Bundestag on 22 November.[27] Since her first term in office, from 2005 to 2009, there have been discussions if the CDU was still "sufficiently conservative" or if it was "social-democratising".[28] In March 2009, Merkel answered with the statement "Sometimes I am liberal, sometimes I am conservative, sometimes I am Christian-social—and this is what defines the CDU."[29]

Although the CDU/CSU lost support in the 2009 federal elections, their "desired partner" FDP experienced the best election cycle in their history, thereby enabling a CDU/CSU–FDP coalition. This marked the first change of coalition partner by a Chancellor in German history and the first centre-right coalition government since 1998. CDU candidate Christian Wulff won the 2010 presidential election in the third ballot, while opposition candidate Joachim Gauck (a Protestant pastor and former anti-communist activist in East Germany, who was favoured even by some CDU members) received a number of "faithless" votes from the government camp.

The decisions to suspend conscription (late-2010) and to phase-out nuclear energy (shortly after the Fukushima disaster in 2011) broke with long-term principles of the CDU, moving the party into a more socially liberal direction and alienating some of its more conservative members and voters. At its November 2011 conference, the party proposed a "wage floor", after having expressly rejected minimum wages during the previous years.[30] Psephologist and Merkel advisor Matthias Jung coined the term "asymmetric demobilisation" for the CDU's strategy (practised in the 2009, 2013 and 2017 campaigns)[31] of adopting issues and positions close to its rivals, e.g. regarding social justice (SPD) and ecology (Greens), thus avoiding conflicts that might mobilise their potential supporters. Some of the promises in the CDU's 2013 election platform were seen as "overtaking the SPD on the left".[32] While this strategy has proven to be quite successful in elections, it also raised warnings that the CDU's profile would become "random", the party would lose its "essence"[30] and it might even be dangerous for democracy in general if parties became indistinguishable and voters demobilised.

President Wulff resigned in February 2012 due to allegations of corruption, triggering an early presidential election. This time, the CDU supported, reluctantly, nonpartisan candidate Joachim Gauck. The CDU/CSU–FDP coalition lasted until the 2013 federal election, when FDP lost all their seats in the Bundestag, while the CDU/CSU won their best result since 1990, only a few seats shy of an absolute majority. This was partly due to the CDU's expansion of voter base to all socio-structural groups (class, age or gender), partly due to the personal popularity of Chancellor Merkel.[33] After talks with the Greens had failed, the CDU/CSU formed a new grand coalition with the SPD.

Despite their long-cherished slogan of "There must be no democratically legitimised party to the right of CDU/CSU",[34] the Union has a serious competitor to its right since 2013: The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) was founded with the involvement of disgruntled CDU members. It drew on the discontent of some conservatives with the Merkel administration's handling of the European debt crisis (2009–14) and later the 2015 refugee crisis, lamenting a purported loss of sovereignty and control or even "state failure". Nearly 10 percent of early AfD members were defectors from the CDU.[35] In the 2017 election, the CDU/CSU lost a large portion of their voteshare. After failing to negotiate a coalition with the FDP and Greens, they continued their grand coalition with the SPD. In October 2018, Merkel announced that she would step down as leader of the CDU in December 2018, but wanted to remain as Chancellor until 2021.[36] Since the 2017 election, CDU has seen its polling numbers declining even further.

Kramp-Karrenbauer (2018–present)

On 7 December 2018, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was elected as new party leader of the CDU in the Christian Democratic Union of Germany leadership election.

Voter base

While Adenauer and Erhard co-operated with non-Nazi parties to their right, the CDU has later worked to marginalize its right-wing opposition. The loss of anti-communism as a political theme, secularization and the cultural revolutions in West Germany occurring since the 1960s have challenged the viability of the CDU.

In her 2005 campaign, Angela Merkel was unwilling to express explicitly Christian views while maintaining that her party had never lost its concept of values. Merkel and Bundestag President Norbert Lammert have been keen to clarify that CDU references to the "dominant culture" imply "tolerance and living together".[23] According to party analyst Stephan Eisel, her avoiding the values-issue may have had the opposite effect as she failed to mobilize the party's core constituency.[37]

The CDU applies the principles of Christian democracy and emphasizes the "Christian understanding of humans and their responsibility toward God". However, CDU membership consists of people adhering to a variety of religions as well as non-religious individuals. The CDU's policies derive from political Catholicism, Catholic social teaching and political Protestantism as well as economic liberalism and national conservatism. The party has adopted more liberal economic policies since Helmut Kohl's term in office as the Chancellor of Germany (1982–1998).

As a conservative party, the CDU supports stronger punishments of crimes and involvement on the part of the Bundeswehr in cases of domestic anti-terrorism offensives. In terms of immigrants, the CDU supports initiatives to integrate immigrants through language courses and aims to further control immigration. Dual citizenship should only be allowed in exceptional cases.

In terms of foreign policy, the CDU commits itself to European integration and a strong relation with the United States. In the European Union, the party opposes the entry of Turkey, preferring instead a privileged partnership. In addition to citing various human rights violations, the CDU also believes that Turkey's unwillingness to recognise Cyprus as an independent sovereign state contradicts the European Union policy that its members must recognise the existence of one another.

The CDU has governed in four federal-level and numerous state-level Grand Coalitions with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) as well as in state and local-level coalitions with the Alliance '90/The Greens. The CDU has an official party congress adjudication that prohibits coalitions and any sort of cooperation with either The Left or the Alternative for Germany.[38]

Internal structure


In 2018 the CDU had 420,240 members.[39]

In 2012, the members' average age was 59 years. 6% of the Christian Democrats were under 30 years old.[40] A 2007 study by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation showed that 25.4% of members were female and 74.6% male. Female participation was higher in the former East German states with 29.2% compared to 24.8% in the former West German states.[41]

Before 1966, membership totals in CDU organisation were only estimated. The numbers after 1966 are based on the total from 31 December of the previous year.

State group Chairman Members
CDU Baden-Württemberg Thomas Strobl 074,669
Berlin Monika Grütters 012,568
Brandenburg Ingo Senftleben 006,797
Bremen Carsten Meyer-Heder 003,246
Hamburg Roland Heintze 009,697
Hesse Volker Bouffier 047,789
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Vincent Kokert 006,038
Lower Saxony Bernd Althusmann 072,813
North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet 165,273
Rhineland-Palatinate Julia Klöckner 049,856
Saarland Tobias Hans 020,651
Saxony Michael Kretschmer 013,148
Saxony-Anhalt Holger Stahlknecht 008,410
Schleswig-Holstein Daniel Günther 026,674
Thuringia Mike Mohring 012,035

Relationship to the CSU

Both the CDU and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) originated after World War II, sharing a concern for the Christian worldview. In the Bundestag, the CDU is represented in a common faction with the CSU. This faction is called CDU/CSU, or informally the Union. Its basis is a binding agreement known as a Fraktionsvertrag between the two parties.

The CDU and CSU share a common youth organisation, the Junge Union, a common pupil organisation, the Schüler Union Deutschlands, a common student organisation, the Ring Christlich-Demokratischer Studenten and a common Mittelstand organisation, the Mittelstands- und Wirtschaftsvereinigung.

CDU and CSU are legally and organisationally separate parties; their ideological differences are sometimes a source of conflict. The most notable and serious such incident was in 1976, when the CSU under Franz Josef Strauß ended the alliance with the CDU at a party conference in Wildbad Kreuth. This decision was reversed shortly thereafter when the CDU threatened to run candidates against the CSU in Bavaria.

The relationship of CDU to the CSU has historic parallels to previous Christian-democratic parties in Germany, with the Catholic Centre Party having served as a national Catholic party throughout the German Empire and the Weimar Republic while the Bavarian People's Party functioning as the Bavarian variant.

Since its formation, the CSU has been more conservative than the CDU. The CSU and the state of Bavaria decided not to sign the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany as they insisted on more autonomy for the individual states.[42] The CSU and the free state of Bavaria have a separate police and justice system (distinctive and non-federal) and have actively participated in all political affairs of the Bundestag, the German government, the Bundesrat, the parliamentary elections of the German President, the European Parliament and meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev in Russia.

Konrad Adenauer Foundation

The Konrad Adenauer Foundation is the think-tank of the CDU. It is named after the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany and first president of the CDU. The foundation offers political education, conducts scientific fact-finding research for political projects, grants scholarships to gifted individuals, researches the history of Christian democracy and supports and encourages European unification, international understanding and development-policy cooperation. Its annual budget amounts to around 120 million euro and is mostly funded by taxpayer money.[43]

Special organizations

Notable suborganisations of the CDU are the following:

Chairperson of the CDU, 1950–present

Konrad Adenauer1950–1966
Ludwig Erhard1966–1967
Kurt Georg Kiesinger1967–1971
Rainer Barzel1971–1973
Helmut Kohl1973–1998
Wolfgang Schäuble1998–2000
Angela Merkel2000–2018
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer2018–present

Parliamentary chairmen/chairwomen of the CDU/CSU group in the national parliament

Chairperson of the CDU/CSU groupPeriod
Heinrich von Brentano di Tremezzo1949–1955
Heinrich Krone1955–1961
Heinrich von Brentano di Tremezzo1961–1964
Rainer Barzel1964–1973
Karl Carstens1973–1976
Helmut Kohl1976–1982
Alfred Dregger1982–1991
Wolfgang Schäuble1991–2000
Friedrich Merz2000–2002
Angela Merkel2002–2005
Volker Kauder2005–2018
Ralph Brinkhaus2018–present

German Chancellors from the CDU

Chancellor of GermanyTime in office
Konrad Adenauer1949–1963
Ludwig Erhard1963–1966
Kurt Georg Kiesinger1966–1969
Helmut Kohl1982–1998
Angela Merkel2005–present

Election results

Federal Parliament (Bundestag)

Election year Leader No. of
constituency votes
No. of
party list votes
% of
party list votes
No. of
overall seats won
+/– Government
1949 Konrad Adenauer 5,978,636 25.2
115 / 402
1953 9,577,659 10,016,594 36.4
197 / 509
1957 11,975,400 11,875,339 39.7
222 / 519
1961 11,622,995 11,283,901 35.8
201 / 521
1965 12,631,319 12,387,562 38.0
202 / 518
1969 Kurt Georg Kiesinger 12,137,148 12,079,535 36.6
201 / 518
1 Opposition
1972 Rainer Barzel 13,304,813 13,190,837 35.2
186 / 518
15 Opposition
1976 Helmut Kohl 14,423,157 14,367,302 38.0
201 / 518
15 Opposition
1980 13,467,207 12,989,200 34.2
185 / 519
16 Opposition
1983 15,943,460 14,857,680 38.1
202 / 520
1987 14,168,527 13,045,745 34.4
185 / 519
1990 17,707,574 17,055,116 36.7
268 / 662
1994 17,473,325 16,089,960 34.2
244 / 672
1998 15,854,215 14,004,908 28.4
198 / 669
46 Opposition
2002 Angela Merkel 15,336,512 14,167,561 29.5
190 / 603
8 Opposition
2005 15,390,950 13,136,740 27.8
180 / 614
2009 13,856,674 11,828,277 27.3
194 / 622
2013 16,233,642 14,921,877 34.1
254 / 630
2017 14,027,804 12,445,832 26.8
200 / 709

European Parliament

Election year No. of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
No. of
overall seats won
1979 10,883,085 39.0 (2nd)
33 / 81
1984 9,308,411 37.5 (1st)
32 / 81
1989 8,332,846 29.5 (2nd)
24 / 81
1994 11,346,073 32.0 (2nd)
39 / 99
1999 10,628,224 39.2 (1st)
43 / 99
2004 9,412,009 36.5 (1st)
40 / 99
2009 8,071,391 30.6 (1st)
34 / 99
2014 8,807,500 30.0 (1st)
29 / 96
2019 8,437,093 22.6 (1st)
23 / 96

State Parliaments (Länder)

Note that the CDU does not contest elections in Bavaria due to the alliance with Bavarian sister party, the CSU.

State Parliament Election year No. of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
Seats Government
No. ± Position
Baden-Württemberg 2016 1,447,249 27.0 (2nd)
42 / 143
18 2nd Greens–CDU
Berlin 2016 288,002 17.6 (2nd)
31 / 160
8 2nd Opposition
Brandenburg 2019 196,988 15.6 (3rd)
15 / 88
6 3rd SPD–CDU–Greens
Bremen 2019 390,414 26.7 (1st)
24 / 84
4 1st Opposition
Hamburg 2015 561,377 15.9 (2nd)
20 / 121
8 2nd Opposition
Hesse 2018 776,254 27.0 (1st)
40 / 137
7 1st CDU–Greens
Lower Saxony 2017 2,707,274 35.4 (2nd)
50 / 137
4 2nd SPD–CDU
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 2016 153,101 19.0 (3rd)
16 / 71
2 3rd SPD–CDU
North Rhine-Westphalia 2017 2,796,683 33.0 (1st)
72 / 199
5 1st CDU–FDP
Rhineland-Palatinate 2016 677,507 31.8 (2nd)
35 / 101
6 2nd Opposition
Saarland 2017 217,265 40.7 (1st)
24 / 51
5 1st CDU–SPD
Saxony 2019 695,560 32.1 (1st)
45 / 119
14 1st CDU–SPD
Saxony-Anhalt 2016 334,123 29.8 (1st)
30 / 87
12 1st CDU–SPD–Greens
Schleswig-Holstein 2017 470,312 32.0 (1st)
25 / 73
3 1st CDU–Greens–FDP
Thuringia 2019 241,103 21.8 (3rd)
21 / 90
13 3rd Opposition

See also


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  42. Dieter Wunderlich (2006). "Gründung der Bundesrepublik Deutschland". Retrieved 23 September 2013.
  43. "2010 Annual Report" (in German). p. 93.
  44. "'Merkel diamond' takes centre stage in German election campaign". The Guardian. 3 September 2013. Retrieved 8 September 2013.

Further reading

  • Bösch, Frank (2004). Steven Van Hecke; Emmanuel Gerard (eds.). Two Crises, Two Consolidations? Christian Democracy in Germany. Christian Democratic Parties in Europe Since the End of the Cold War. Leuven University Press. pp. 55–78. ISBN 90-5867-377-4.
  • Cary, Noel D. (1996). The Path to Christian Democracy: German Catholics and the Party System from Windthorst to Adenauer. Harvard University Press.
  • Green, Simon; Turner, Ed, eds. (2015). Understanding the Transformation of Germany’s CDU. Routledge.
  • Kleinmann, Hans-Otto (1993). Geschichte der CDU: 1945–1982. Stuttgart. ISBN 3-421-06541-1.
  • Lappenküper, Ulrich (2004). Michael Gehler; Wolfram Kaiser (eds.). Between Concentration Movement and People's Party: The Christian Democratic Union of Germany. Christian Democracy in Europe since 1945. Routledge. pp. 21–32. ISBN 0-7146-5662-3.
  • Mitchell, Maria (2012). The Origins of Christian Democracy: Politics and Confession in Modern Germany. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-11841-0.
  • Wiliarty, Sarah Elise (2010). The CDU and the Politics of Gender in Germany: Bringing Women to the Party. Cambridge University Press.
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