Kutatás / Kereszténység és demokrácia

Identifying Christian democratic elements in CDU politics

There is a broad consensus that the CDU has been “the Christian democratic party” in the past seventy years. Several reasons are behind this convention which, in general, we do not question. Yet, building on the categorisation of Bale and Szczerbiak, we examine the government programme of the CDU/CSU for the 2021 elections in order to identify Christian democratic elements in CDU politics.


Why has the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) been acknowledged as “the
Christian democratic party” in the past seventy years? Is it because they are treated
as Christian democratic by politicians, journalists, and political scientists? Is it because
its name refers to it explicitly? Is it because it consistently and continuously represents
Christian democratic politics? Or is it because we identify Christian democratic politics
with the CDU automatically without questioning its validity? We believe that all of these
factors above are underlying reasons. We do not intend to question the Christian
democratic character of the CDU, yet we would like to test the presence of Christian
democratic elements in CDU politics. In our previous article– in which we compared
an “old” and a “new” government programme of the CDU – we have already treated
government programmes as proper instruments of analysis. In this article, we follow
this path by evaluating the government programme of the CDU/CSU for the 2021
elections, which is entitled Das Programm für Stabilität und Erneuerung. Gemeinsam
für ein Modernes Deutschland (Programme for Stability and Renewal. Together for a
Modern Germany). The “analytical lenses” we use - or in other words - the framework
that helps us to detect Christian democratic elements has also been introduced in one
of our previous articles. Trying to find answers to the question in their article, entitled
Why Is There No Christian Democracy in Poland – and Why Should We Care?, Tim
Bale and Aleks Szczerbiak highlighted five core elements of Christian democratic
politics, namely, in short:

(1) “The first characteristic of a Christian democratic party is a commitment to the
idea of society as an organic whole…”
(2) “Christian democrats are traditionally strong supporters of the family as the key
means of achieving this societal equilibrium.”
(3) “Christian democrats have normally supported some kind of ‘social capitalism’,
best exemplified by the German ‘social market’ economy.”
(4) “Christian Democrat foreign policy is underpinned by a strong emphasis on
transnational, as well as domestic, reconciliation.”
(5) “Christian Democratic parties’ programmes are explicitly rooted in and
underpinned by religiosity.”

These five aspects will be considered in our analysis, keeping in mind the related
comments added by the authors in the methodological part of their article.
Still, before the analysis, some additional comments should be made. First, as Bale and
Szczerbiak highlight, these five aspects should “not be seen as a set of criteria that
absolutely has to be fulfilled to the letter”.

This statement is partly based on the idea that Christian democratic parties could be different in every nation. As a good guide, the authors point to Wittgenstein’s concept of “family resemblance”. Second, it is also argued that a political party should not be treated as Christian democratic if they clearly
run against one of these aspects.

The second and third notes are related to the government programme we analyse.
This analysis is a “targeted” one, meaning that it will only examine topics connected to
these five aspects. This will lead us to omit themes significantly present in the – quite
lengthy, 139 pages long – programme but unrelated to Christian democratic politics
(for instance, digitalisation, transportation, coronavirus). Finally, it should also be
declared that if a Christian democratic catchword such as solidarism or personalism is
mentioned (for instance, once) in the government programme, it does not mean that
the related criterion is automatically fulfilled. Not empty slogans but serious dedications
towards Christian democratic elements are searched. We believe that the repeated
occurrence of a Christian democratic idea supported by the fact that specific policy
plans are assigned to it, are proper indicators of presence. 

Download the full analysis in PDF