Ziemiak’s new post in NRW: The return of the general


Status: 17.11.2022 00:37

From the federal CDU to the state association of North Rhine-Westphalia: Ziemiak’s new post as general secretary in Düsseldorf is a surprise for several reasons. The personnel also sends a message to CDU leader Merz.

At school, Hendrik Wüst and Paul Ziemiak must have always been among the last, at least when it came to the alphabet. In the largest state association of the CDU, the two are now at the forefront, one as party chairman and prime minister, the other as general secretary since last week.

It was a huge surprise when the public and the party heard a top report from North Rhine-Westphalian state politics in the evening, at prime time: Ziemiak, known for four years as Secretary General of the federal CDU, is temporarily taking over the post of full-time headbanger in Düsseldorf. That sat. Wüst had taken his time for months, answering the repeated questions as to when he would finally nominate a person for the vacant post of Secretary General, he increasingly tight-lipped.

The personnel Ziemiak is a coup for several reasons. Firstly, because it is an unusual career step to switch from the federal to the state level, especially in the same office. It’s true that Ziemiak, after party leader Friedrich Merz put his chair in front of the door of the Adenauerhaus, has only been a simple member of the Bundestag since the beginning of the year. There is a great danger that ambitious politicians will get bored. But switching to a state association could be interpreted as a step backwards to the provinces, especially in the federal capital that is vibrating with its own importance.

Again no general secretary

Secondly, almost all observers inside and outside the NRW-CDU had firmly expected that this time there would be a general secretary. The CDU-led State Chancellery on the banks of the Rhine is already firmly in male hands, and all leading positions are occupied by ambitious Christian Democrats. It is no different at the top of the parliamentary group. Now also the CDU headquarters in the Wasserstraße, just a few hundred meters from the seat of government.

With Ziemiak and a future country manager, there is no trace of women here either. Attempts to find a suitable politician have apparently been unsuccessful. There are women CDU ministers in the black-green state cabinet, and it even has equal representation. But in the party things are different. When Ziemiak explains in his first interviews that he wants to make the CDU “younger, more female and more diverse” in the West, he has every reason to do so.

Message to the address of Merz

Thirdly, and this is perhaps the most exciting point, the symbolic power of the change from BVB supporter Ziemiak is about as sensational as the transfer of a top striker to your archrival. Because since then there has been speculation about the question of which message is sent to the address of Union faction leader Merz. Wüst, who has been prime minister of the most populous federal state for a good year, is considered the leadership reserve for the Union should things not go well with the Sauerland Merz.

With a presidential style of government, Wüst is clearly making an effort to hover above the lowlands of daily politics and, above all, to make bella figura on social media. But a debate about when he might reach for the top candidate for the federal elections is mined territory for him.

From Dusseldorf to Berlin?

Hannelore Kraft, Norbert Röttgen, Armin Laschet – for various reasons, state politicians from the West have repeatedly gotten tangled up in dealing with Berlin. To categorically rule out chancellor candidatures, as the SPD politician Kraft did (“Never, never”), was devastating for her political fate.

It was also a mistake not to make a clear decision between the state and the federal government, as the then Federal Environment Minister Röttgen did as the CDU’s top candidate for the post of prime minister. And wanting to get something done by hook or by crook in federal politics ultimately cost CDU Prime Minister Laschet his job in Düsseldorf. Between 2005 and 2010, only CDU politician Jürgen Rüttgers was able to poke Chancellor and fellow party member Merkel from Düsseldorf with pinpricks.

Wüst, who was General Secretary of the NRW-CDU under Rüttgers, has been forewarned and knows that the debate can be a real stress test at the wrong time. That’s why it’s so remarkable that he chose Ziemiak anyway, fueling the very debate he needs to avoid.

Modern Conservative

But Ziemiak, who was born in Poland and grew up in the Sauerland region, is someone who fits in well with the Wüst camp. Ziemiak is considered a modern conservative. Family and church are important institutions for him. As a child of immigrants, he is also open to the concerns of modern migration and integration policies.

Ziemiak, who, like faction leader Thorsten Schick, comes from Iserlohn, knows the NRW-CDU. He is a private friend of the head of the State Chancellery, Federal and Media Minister Nathanael Liminski. He is also the godfather of one of the children. The impression that a veritable network of ambitious string pullers is emerging in Düsseldorf that connects more than just state politics is hard to dismiss.

Organizer and bridgehead

What speaks for Ziemiak from Wüst’s point of view is his experience. When Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer made him the youngest general secretary of the CDU at the end of 2018, it was not clear whether this personnel decision would be a blessing. Ziemiak’s first major test promptly failed when he had to fend off the attacks by YouTuber Rezo (“The Destruction of the CDU”). A little glorious moment.

But Ziemiak learned quickly. During the pandemic, he organized digital party congresses and elections, skyrocketing his standing in the party overnight. However, the campaign for the 2021 federal election is also considered quite a flop in its own ranks. Ziemiak, who was head of the Junge Union for four years, had to be loudly insulted at their Germany Day. Nevertheless, the reputation of being a doer who has learned from his mistakes and is still very well connected in Berlin now precedes him.

“Always an ear in Berlin”

Strategically, it could be the calculus of Wüst’s power on the Rhine to have a hands-on organizer in Ziemiak in Düsseldorf and a bridgehead in Berlin. According to party circles, it is important “to always have an ear for state politics in Berlin.”

It is well known that in Berlin Union circles there is sometimes bad talk about the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia and its prime minister. That’s a tradition. But you would at least like to hear about it.

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