Person of the week: Hendrik Wüst: The political secret of the Merkel medals

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Person of the week: Hendrik Wüst
The political secret of the Merkel medals

By Wolfram Weimer

After the Federal President, Hendrik Wüst and Markus Söder now also award high medals to Angela Merkel. What does the political symbolism of power mean? Are these hidden tips against Friedrich Merz? Who holds the trump cards in the race for the chancellor candidacy?

Orders can normally be earned, earned or remembered. In the case of Angela Merkel, it is about remembering, in two ways – of the former chancellor and of those who bestow medals on her. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently crowned her with the highest possible award – the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in a special edition. Steinmeier showered Merkel with praise at Bellevue Palace, also celebrating his own time as her vice chancellor and foreign minister in the grand coalition. The “Tagesspiegel” then commented laconically: “A medal for two”.

Now the Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hendrik Wüst, is awarding her the State Prize of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia. Also the highest award one has to offer there. And here, too, the order has a reciprocal effect. Merkel is to be honored as a “great stateswoman who looks down her own path with great humility”, for her “extraordinary humanitarian achievements”, her “outstanding merits” and her “role model function as the first female Chancellor”. At the same time, however, the order should also present Hendrik Wüst: as a far-sighted father of the country, who is wrapped in the cloak of Merkel history and who positions himself as a man of the middle.

Swipe against Friedrich Merz?

“Hendrik is reaching for St. Angela’s grail, which promises eternal power,” jokes a member of the CDU presidency. Many also see the spectacle of the Order, which is taking place this afternoon in Cologne, as a barely concealed dig at the CDU chairman Friedrich Merz. The fight for the chancellor candidacy of the Union was demonstratively opened.

This impression is almost grotesquely reinforced by the fact that Markus Söder will now award Merkel a medal. On June 21, she is also to receive the Bavarian Order of Merit – in the Munich Residence, from the hands of the CSU chairman and prime minister. “The same Markus Söder who decided in the 2018 state election campaign not to campaign for Merkel,” recalled the “Münchner Merkur” smugly.

Since medals have been instruments of power in symbolic politics since the time of the pharaohs, Steinmeier, Wüst and Söder naturally also pursue clear political and personal goals with their three Merkel medals. Steinmeier wants to secure his political legacy, Wüst wants to broaden his base and Söder wants to gain integrity – and a telegenic campaign date. All three are also striving for reputational reflections and the effect of authority. They should also get that with the medals.

Wüst does not want to become chancellor for the time being

But the K question in the Union is not decided in the Order’s minuet. In truth, Hendrik Wüst has no intention of entering this race. It can be heard from his immediate environment that Wüst knows how to use the aura of the candidate candidate for his political reputation, but at the same time does not want to become “Laschet 2” under any circumstances. He knows that a prime minister who decides to jump in his first legislature is doomed.

In fact, Wüst has only been prime minister for a year. So far in his career he has not been able to develop any federal political ambitions or foreign policy skills. Running for chancellor from an inexperienced person would be like promoting a train driver to a jet pilot. And at just 47, Wüst can wait for his chance in peace.

And Markus Söder will not reach for the chancellor candidacy a second time either. It is true that many do not really trust his denials, no matter how clear: “I am not available”; “for me the topic is closed”; “My mission in life is Bavaria”. In addition, Söder is facing a clear election victory in autumn, which should increase its nationwide appeal. But Söder has another problem. Even if he still wanted to and the polls deceived him, he would no longer be called by the CDU. The anger about the last federal election campaign and the role that Söder played in it is too deep within the CDU.

The K question has long been decided: Merz does it

In truth, the Union’s K question is more boring than you might think, because it has already been decided: there is no getting around Friedrich Merz. Merz has the power-political threads in his own hands. He is party and faction leader in one person. He is the undisputed leader of the opposition in the Bundestag and on talk shows and also has enormous internal party legitimacy because he was directly elected by the party base. In this constellation, every competitor for the candidacy would act as a coup plotter.

Another thing that speaks for Merz is that he rebuilt the deeply wounded party amazingly powerfully and harmoniously after the 2021 election debacle. In the nationwide polls, the CDU is again well ahead of all its competitors. And under his leadership, it also wins elections. She won the elections in the northernmost (Schleswig-Holstein), in the largest (NRW) and in the most difficult federal state for the Union (Berlin). In Bremen it is at least possible to return to government. Things are also looking good for Hesse, where elections will be held on October 8th. The comeback of the People’s Party with the clever involvement of all wings is highly credited to Merz within the CDU. The chancellor candidacy can therefore hardly be taken away from him – at least not by conferring medals on Angela Merkel.



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