The chronological location of summer and autumn is one thing: meteorologists, for example, let autumn 2024 begin on September 1st. The calendar start of autumn, on the other hand, will be September 22 at 2:43 p.m. CEST. And then there are regional peculiarities, such as in Munich, where autumn – it feels like – always begins with the end of the Wiesn, so next year on October 6th. As banal as the general question of dates may be, thanks to the Union, the change of seasons in the coming year is now a political issue.

Blame it on none other than the leaders of the CDU and CSU personally, Friedrich Merz and Markus Söder. In the past few days, both have given a prime example of misleading communication on the question of when the Union should choose its candidate for chancellor: While the Bavarian Prime Minister spoke on Sunday on ARD “at the earliest” for the fall, Merz continues to believe that Söder was also there before “by consensus” in late summer – pretty much exactly a year before the next federal election.

View focuses on three East state elections

The whole thing would be easier if it was only about the date. But in the said period of time three East state elections take place, the outcome of which is not insignificant for the personnel. A new state parliament will be elected in Saxony and probably also in Thuringia on September 1st, and in Brandenburg on September 22nd. And in almost all opinion polls, the AfD is ahead. The CDU and with it all other parties must fear a disaster.

If the Union were to put its top man – there is no woman in sight – on the shield before these three elections, there would be a risk of wasting him with bad election results. That’s how Söder sees it, who sees “little sense” at an early stage and believes “that we have to analyze the results of these state elections very, very sensitively and very precisely and that we may also find good arguments for the personnel issue from them”.

On the other hand, Merz still prefers to speak imprecisely about late summer and does not want to see any dissent with Söder in it. After he did not want to comment on the new date proposal on Monday even when asked, he made adjustments on Tuesday: “Late summer lasts until the end of September,” he says on Deutschlandfunk. “And 5:30 p.m. and half past five are the same time. And if one says 5:30 p.m. and the other says half past five, then that’s not a contradiction.”

Unsolved K-question can lead to problems

But some think they can see exactly that in the sister parties: For them it was and is less important whether summer or autumn, but it “felt” clear that the freestyle should take place before the East elections and not just afterwards . Nobody in the Union wants to comment publicly on this, the topic is still too far away for that, it is said that there are currently more important topics than this internal debate. But the fact is, and the Union learned this painfully in the power struggle between Söder and Armin Laschet in 2021: an unresolved K question can ultimately release unwanted forces and thus also contribute to election defeats.

According to reports, who will ultimately challenge Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) from the Union is completely open. If Merz wants to be CDU boss, he has the right of first access, it is also said from the CSU. However, both parties are now increasingly putting a question mark behind Merz on the subject and asking whether he has long since taken himself out of the race.

Criticism of Merz because of the AfD debate

Reference is then often made to the debate he triggered about the cooperation between the CDU and AfD at the municipal level, which drew such circles that it superimposed the result of a presidium meeting of the CDU and CSU on economic policy. In addition, according to both parties, Merz is doing extremely poorly in polls compared to Söder or, for example, the Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia and CDU state leader Hendrik Wüst. Merz’s critics even see deficits in the party leadership, there was a lack of a new line, a strategy especially for the East.

And then in the course of 2024 further imponderables could influence the K-Search: Should the CDU, which sees itself as the German European party per se, fail in the elections to the European Parliament on June 9th, Merz would be blamed. On the same day, local elections may be held in 9 out of 16 federal states – not in Bavaria – which will be another mood test for the CDU and its boss because of their number.

Things will get serious for Söder on October 8th – then he will have to get a better result for the CSU in the state elections in Free State than in 2018. Within the party, many see the 40 percent mark as the minimum for the attribute “successful”. If the CDU then messed up the three elections in the East, the pendulum could swing in the direction of the CSU leader. Conversely, the same applies: Should the CDU perform better in the east than currently predicted – who wanted to dispute Merz’s candidacy? But the Union is far away from such luxury problems in the summer of 2023.