Markus Söder stands with one hand in his pocket on the roof of the Bavarian State Chancellery in Munich. He wears a traditional jacket, smiles and looks down at the camera, with a solar system gleaming in the background. It is a photo that should radiate everything that Söder would like to portray: modern conservatism, attachment to home, self-confidence, power. And it’s a photo that garnished a rowdy interview over the weekend.
In the “Bild” newspaper, the Bavarian Prime Minister accused the traffic light of “re-educating” the population. “The social turning point of traffic lights is directed against the majority of ordinary people. It’s always about coercion, not freedom,” he raged. And he grumbled that the traffic light was a “North German construct” that neglected the south.
The image, the headline-grabbing sentences, all served one purpose above all else. It should send the message: I’m back! The frequency of Söder’s statements had already increased in the past few weeks, but this interview was the big hit right before the CSU state group’s exam in the Bundestag this week – attention guaranteed.
After the Union’s crashing election defeat in the federal election and the disastrous election result for the CSU in Bavaria of 31.7 percent, Söder initially went diving. The nationwide interest in him was also limited. But the state elections in Bavaria are coming up in 2023 and Söder has to defend his office. He needs the big stage for that.
During the corona crisis, Söder had meanwhile risen to unimagined heights in surveys through clever self-marketing and a hard course in the self-proclaimed “Team Caution”. Although he had always emphasized that his place was in Bavaria, he toyed with the idea of running for chancellor more and more openly, finally announcing that he was available. But the CDU denied him this chance. Söder had to acknowledge: “Armin Laschet will be the Union’s candidate for chancellor.”
He could have left it at that, could have counted on the fact that the comparison with the hapless Laschet alone would make him shine all the brighter. But Söder teased Laschet, again and again, sometimes patronizing, sometimes condescending, the relationship between the CDU and CSU reached a low point. In the end, Söder had to be accused that the Union also lost the election because of him.
As a result, the Franconian kept the ball reasonably flat, he was only Bavarian Prime Minister again. Because he also has a lot of catching up to do at home. In Bavaria, Söder’s tough corona course was far less well received than in the rest of Germany. And his rapprochement with the Greens was not only well received by party supporters. According to a survey by the “Augsburger Allgemeine”, in April his approval ratings fell to their lowest level since he took office in March 2018. Half of those surveyed said they were dissatisfied with him.
There were also annoyances such as the Secretary General debacle: Stephan Mayer was Secretary General of the CSU for just three months, then he had to resign because he is said to have shouted at and threatened a journalist. And as soon as the successor Martin Huber was presented, a plagiarism hunter tracked down a whole series of literal quotations in his doctoral thesis that were not clearly identified.
In polls, the CSU is currently only 37 percent – exactly where it landed in the last state election and from where Söder actually wanted to lead the party back to old heights. He knows that if he doesn’t deliver in the 2023 state election, things will look bleak for him. And so the Frank is now driven. He’s been in campaign mode for a while. “Markus Söder leaves no beer keg untapped, no greeting indignant,” wrote the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” about him a few days ago. You can follow Söder on Instagram. “Today a parade celebrating 1250 years of the community of Nüdlingen in Lower Franconia” can be read there, along with pictures of a waving Söder on the street, followed by a brass band.
Söder no longer wants to leave any doubt as to where his place is. He rules out renewed efforts to run for chancellor. There is nothing left of his tough Corona course, he has abolished the mask requirement in Bavarian local transport. And he focuses on topics that also work at the regulars’ table: he calls for an extension of the use of nuclear power, laments the Bavarian bashing by the government in Berlin and castigates the alleged “re-education” through the traffic light in the “Bild”. “It is wrong to compulsively prescribe gender. It is wrong to make state guidelines on nutrition,” he explained, and accused the FDP of supporting “left-wing politics”. “Where did the FDP agree to new regulations on ‘gender’ or ‘nutrition’? That’s ‘Schmarrn’, as they say in Bavaria!” Justice Minister Marco Buschmann of the FDP was outraged.
This Wednesday and Thursday, the CSU state group in the Bundestag is for a retreat in the Bavarian monastery Banz, Söder and CDU leader Friedrich Merz are also on site. As usual, the national group leaked the position paper that is to be decided there. But Söder got a lot of attention first. So it’s going according to plan.