It's a cloudy day in early January, but Friedrich Merz is in the best of spirits at the Düsseldorf Airporthotel Van der Valk.

The passionate pilot, who likes to fly to appointments at the controls of his propeller plane from his native Sauerland, this time has traveled by scheduled flight from Munich to take part in the closed-door meeting of the leadership bodies of the North Rhine-Westphalian CDU.

Reinhard Bingener

Political correspondent for Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Bremen based in Hanover.

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Pure burger

Political correspondent in North Rhine-Westphalia.

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Oliver Georgi

Editor in the politics of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sunday newspaper.

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Matthias Wysuwa

Political correspondent for northern Germany and Scandinavia based in Hamburg.

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Merz was able to celebrate his long-awaited triumph just a few days ago.

Twice, in late 2018 and early 2021, he was defeated at party conferences in the struggle for the CDU presidency;

In mid-December, Merz then clearly prevailed in the first membership decision in the party's history with 62.1 percent.

From a formal point of view, Merz is still only designated federal chairman.

His election must be confirmed at the digital party conference this Saturday and then by post.

But Merz doesn't want to waste any time. He has resolved to get his party, which crashed in the general election, back on its feet as soon as possible. In front of a CDU partition with the inscription “Create perspectives. Seize opportunities” is how he outlines his plans at the Düsseldorf Airport Hotel alongside the Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hendrik Wüst. He talks about a new basic program that he would like to have worked out in the party before the next federal election. Remarkably, it is not the 66-year-old Merz, but the twenty-year-old Wüst, who unmistakably defines the political corridor of the CDU. "We agree that the success of the CDU lies in the middle, we are guided by the issues of the middle and the people of the middle."

But before it goes to the big lines, Merz and his party must first pass four state elections in the next few months. In the spring, three prime ministers with CDU party membership want to defend their office: Tobias Hans in Saarland on March 27th, Daniel Günther in Schleswig-Holstein on May 8th and Wüst in North Rhine-Westphalia just a week later. The fourth state election is due in October in Lower Saxony. “Personally, I like this order,” says Merz, almost happily. This gives the federal party the opportunity "to do a test run in the two smaller countries for what we want to do organizationally". Then the future chairman builds: "The election campaigns must be conducted in the federal states and will also be won in the federal states, at least we hope."

For the full width?

There, in the federal states, there are fears of further quarrels at the CDU federal level.

The campaigners are concerned about the smoldering conflict over the presidency of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, which Ralph Brinkhaus currently holds.

His term of office lasts only until April 30th.

In the worst case, the party is threatened with an open struggle between Merz and Brinkhaus right at the time of the first three state election campaigns.

It is said that the group leader, who is valued internally by the MPs, is fighting for his office.

Brinkhaus whispered his appreciation to his parliamentary group colleagues, whom he waited on in the Reichstag.