After the recent revelation that representatives within the Bavarian Parliament- 79 in total, 56 of them CSU members- had taken on immediate kin as paid employees, CSU leaders are scrambling to regain their status as Bavaria's pre-eminent political party as both state and federal elections draw near.
According to an opinion poll recently published by Emnid, support for the CSU had fallen to 37 percent, their lowest ranking since October 2012. The poll also showed that people's opinions of the other major parties in Bavaria's Landtag had shifted, leaving the CSU/FDP coalition dead even with the SPD/Green coalition, with each party earning an approval rating of 42 percent.
This represents a setback for the Union- formed by the national CDU party and the Bavarian CSU party- as Angela Merkel seeks a third term as Chancellor of Germany in elections in September. Angela Merkel's CDU relies heavily on the support of the CSU, its Bavarian sister-party, the two of which together form the core of conservative politics in Germany, so any bad press in Bavaria is bound to have national implications. Deputy Chairman of the CDU, Thomas Strobl, has distanced himself from the CSU. "This debate is not helpful for us," he said. "The whole thing has a strange taste to it."
The recent scandal involving CSU supporter Uli Hoeness, President of FC Bayern, who is accused of evading taxes on money earned in the stock market, further tarnishes that image. In addition, Mrs. Merkel's central position in the ongoing euro crisis has her advising other countries on the importance of fiscal discipline and honest government, so her credibility both in and outside of Germany is likely to suffer.
The uproar over what is has been dubbed the "Amigo-Affäre"- referring to the 1993 scandal which forced then Minister President of Bavaria, Max Streibl, to step down after it was revealed that he had accepted money from industry for private vacations- began when a list was made public of representatives who had continued to employ immediate kin after a 2000 law which banned the practice. The law, however, did include a loophole that allowed family members hired before that time to remain employed. Thus, no laws were broken.
The scandal has, however, shaken up the party leadership and has brought what many here in Bavaria see as the clubby nature of the CSU, with its historically firm grip on political power, under scrutiny. This has already led to the departure of some party stalwarts, including Georg Schmid, the former Bavarian Parliament Party Chairman, who had hired his wife as a secretary, and Georg Winter, who has stepped back from his position as Chairman of the Committee on Budget and Finance after it became known that he had used taxpayer money to pay his sons for computer maintenance.
Barbara Stamm, the President of the Bavarian Parliament, has vowed to put an end to the practice of hiring relatives altogether and to place the authority to award contracts with the Bavarian Parliament Agency, the Landtagsamt.
How this scandal will affect the future of the CSU party remains to be seen, but it must be noted that practice of nepotism is neither confined to the CSU nor something new in Bavarian politics. As Claus Christian Malzahn of Die Welt pointed out recently, "The borders between private business and politics [in Bavaria] have long been blurred."