While still receiving wide support across Germany and quite certain to be re-elected in 2017 should she seek a fourth term, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is, for the first time in over a decade, losing support within her own party.
These divisions arose due to growing frustration among the conservative branch of the CDU, which sees the government’s refusal to set a limit on Germany’s refugee intake, as well as other policies which they consider to be too far left, as the main causes for the conservatives’ electoral losses earlier this year.
Because of that, several Christian-Democrats, among whom figure rising politicians such as Jens Spahn and Julia Klöckner, have more or less cautiously been distancing themselves from the official party line and its leader.
A few days ago, the Guardian published a rather unexpected article concerning Jens Spahn, a young, ambitious, but until then rather unknown member of Angela Merkel’s cabinet.
The article, which focused particularly on the deputy finance minister’s criticisms aimed towards the government’s policies on immigration among other things, sees him as a possible challenger for accessing the German chancellery once Merkel steps aside, if not even sooner.
Who is Jens Spahn?
- Having joined the Christian-Democratic Union at the age of 17 back in 1997 after two years spent in the party’s youth section, Spahn quickly climbed the political ladder to be elected five years later, at the age of 22, to Germany’s lower house of Parliament, before he had even started his Bachelor’s degree. He since then went on to winning two more elections, occupied senior roles in several parliamentary committees on health policy, and co-founded a cross-party movement of young MPs working on solving intergenerational inequality.
- In 2012, he came out as openly gay in an interview. The news was received with wide enthusiasm, exception made of a few older conservatives who could not help themselves from making questionable remarks, most of which were later taken back however.
- Following the 2013 elections result, many, including himself, expected Spahn to be nominated at the head of the Health Ministry. However, he was excluded from any government position, at least until the following year.
- At a party convention in late 2014, he was nominated to serve on the party’s executive committee, following a widely acclaimed speech on tolerance and democratic values. Spahn was later appointed as Junior Minister, working side-by-side with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a former party leader from the late 1990s.
Flying too close to the sun
This new role as Deputy Finance Minister has also allowed him to voice his concerns over government policies more openly. For instance, although he officially supports Merkel’s response to the refugee crisis last year, he nevertheless criticised her government for perhaps putting “too much emphasis on the humanitarian approach”, he insists that refugees installed in Germany should do more to adopt ‘Western values’. He has for instance voiced his indignation over the use of the full-veil (or ‘burka’) by many newly arrived Muslim women.
Although his conservative take on immigration, his expertise in economic affairs, and his youth and homosexuality could simultaneously appeal to a wide range of the German electorate, Jens Spahn’s chances of one day accessing Germany’s top position could be barred by his own combativeness, which sometimes borders arrogance.
By overtly opposing several government policies, flirting with some of the most conservative voters’ fears on immigration and Islam, and seemingly gaining prominence year after year, he has, perhaps unknowingly, sent a warning message to the party’s top executives, including Merkel herself. Should the one whom so many Germans affectionately call ‘Mutti’ feel genuinely threatened by Spahn, there is little doubt that his career trajectory could become rockier.
And, ironically, an article published by the Guardian, putting Spahn in the spotlight and labelling him as a potentially serious contender for the chancellery, just might be the trigger that could make his journey all the more difficult.