Merkel Absent as Bavarian Allies Parse Her Re-Election Chances

(Bloomberg) -- Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies are meeting for a convention without her as Germany’s chancellor seeks to avoid an argument before deciding whether to run again.

Merkel and leaders of the Christian Social Union are engaged in delicate maneuvering as CSU delegates gather in Munich on Friday. As senior members of Merkel’s government privately say they expect her to seek a fourth term in next year’s election, there’s still a risk that the Bavarian party will break ranks over refugee policy, potentially weakening her standing.

Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer, the CSU head who is Merkel’s main antagonist, will give the latest indication of the headwinds she faces with his convention speech at 4 p.m. local time. For a two-party alliance that anchored German democracy after World War II and traditionally runs on a joint platform, this year is a struggle.

“They’re not there yet,” Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING-Diba AG in Frankfurt, said in an interview in Berlin. “But the base case is that she’s going to run again.”

The cracks in Merkel’s once-unassailable chancellorship reflect the uncertainty faced by Europe’s establishment after more than a year of grappling with record migration. Bavarian leaders have countered the rise of the populist Alternative for Germany party by demanding a cap on migration, which Merkel rejects.

It’s the first time in 11 years in office that Merkel is avoiding the CSU, which is calling for an annual limit of 200,000 refugees in a platform that delegates are expected to back on Saturday.

Merkel and Seehofer agreed that the chancellor’s absence would be preferable given the risk of a chilly reception at the Munich convention, according to a government official who asked not to be identified discussing party matters. Last year, the Bavarian leader chided Merkel on stage for her stance on refugees.

Regardless of the party feud, Merkel intends to give a signal of her intentions at her Christian Democratic Union’s national convention on Dec. 5-7, though it isn’t decided yet whether she’ll declare her candidacy outright, the official said.

Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Soeder offered a hint on how the month-long choreography could play out, implying that his party would wait for Merkel to declare before deciding whether to endorse her for another term.

“The correct procedure in this case is that she decides whether she wants to, then we would deliberate,” Soeder told broadcaster ARD. Backing for Merkel could only come after the parties resolve their differences, which will require “word-fiddling,” he said.

Green Admirer

With the election 11 months away, Merkel still has time to patch up with her Bavarian allies and win back voters driven away by anxiety over the refugee influx. Even now, the CDU-CSU bloc remains Germany’s biggest political force and polls suggest Merkel could extend her coalition with the Social Democrats if elections were held now.

In Berlin’s national political establishment, several senior lawmakers in both branches of Merkel’s bloc are publicly urging her to declare. She even has backing from the Green party premier of the wealthy southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Winfried Kretschmann.

“I’d find that very good,” he said on a talk show this week.