In the summer of 1979, 12 young men on a flight from Venezuela to Chile hit on an entertaining idea to pass the time. Half-jokingly, they drafted a document called the “Andes Pact,” swearing eternal allegiance and mutual help to each other in their political careers.
The would-be politicians from the Junge Union — young members of Germany’s center-right Christian Democrats — proved quite successful. One of them, Christian Wulff, became German president. Another, Günther Oettinger, is a European Union commissioner today.
A few, like Matthias Wissmann and Franz Josef Jung, went on to become cabinet ministers. Others became state premiers, including Roland Koch of Hessen, Peter Müller of Saarland and Volker Bouffier, also of Hessen.
They set up a political alliance via the social network WhatsApp and gave it the kind of title you might expect: The “troika.”
Even if the Andes Pact hasn’t produced a federal chancellor yet, it worked overall. Everyone in the ruling Christian Democrat Union party, now led by chancellor Angela Merkel and the ruling party in Germany's coalition government, is familiar with the story of binding commitment sworn on that plane over South America.
Now, 36 years later, there is a new and smaller group — three ambitious young CDU politicians with a quirky idea. They set up their alliance via the social network WhatsApp and gave it the kind of title you might expect: The “troika.”
The name is reminiscent of an attempt by Gerhard Schröder, Rudolph Scharping and Oskar Lafontaine to attain power together with the center-left Social Democrats back in the 1990s. That troika failed.
But the individuals behind the CDU troika have so far been quite successful.
One is Jens Spahn, a 35-year-old member of parliament (the Bundestag) who is very vocal about health policy. Mr. Spahn, who trained in banking, has been a member of the Bundestag lower house of parliament since 2002.
He helped negotiate the 2013 coalition agreement that formed the current government between the conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats. But he felt this work was not fully rewarded. So he put himself forward as a candidate for the party’s executive committee and was elected at the party conference in December 2014.
Mr. Spahn’s candidacy was supported by Paul Ziemiak, at 30 the youngest member of the CDU’s troika. As head of the Junge Union, Mr. Ziemiak represents 120,000 members and is, by virtue of his office, on the party’s federal board.
He was instrumental in gathering the votes Mr. Spahn needed. No less a rival than a former general secretary, Health Minister Hermann Gröhe, lost to him.
Subsequently, Mr. Spahn and Mr. Ziemiak had their photos taken arm-in-arm at the party conference, in a proud thumbs-up pose. Meantime, Mr. Spahn has risen to parliamentary secretary of state in the federal finance ministry.
The third member of the group, Carsten Linnemann, has also been helpful. Since 2013 the Bundestag member has been in charge of the CDU's association of mid-sized companies, or MIT. He took pains to modernize what had become an outdated group, which represents 30,000 members.
The 38-year-old economist didn’t just support Mr. Spahn’s election to the executive committee at the party conference in Cologne. With the help of the employees’ rights faction of the CDU, he managed to implement an employee-friendly tax change to counter “cold progression,” or bracket creep. The measure had long been opposed by both Ms. Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.
The trio of Mr. Spahn, Mr. Linnemann and Mr. Ziemiak won another victory at last month's party conference in Karlsruhe. They came up with a proposal regarding the refugee crisis that has calmed party unrest over the issue, at least for now.
“Without our demands for an upper limit (of refugees), this formulation would never have emerged at the conference,” said Mr. Ziemiak, who made the proposal.
In a parallel move, Mr. Linnemann appealed in public for “a signal of limitation.”
And Mr. Spahn brought out a publication about the refugee crisis a few weeks before the party conference, warning of the consequences if the government failed to get to grips with the issue. Mr. Ziemiak and Mr. Linnemann were two of the contributors to the book.
“The three of us just get on very well,” explained Mr. Ziemiak.
The three first got to know each other in the Junge Union, and all are from North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany's most populous state. Mr. Spahn is from Münsterland, Mr. Linnemann from East Westphalia and Mr. Ziemiak from South-Westphalia. In other words, between them they broadly cover the CDU’s biggest state association.
Will the troika remain just a quirky alliance? Or will one even become chancellor one day? If so, it will be Mr. Spahn, they joke. Or maybe another woman will turn up in the end, just as Ms. Merkel thwarted the “Andes Pact” guys years ago.
These days one keeps hearing the name Julia Klöckner, the deputy chairwoman of the CDU. But the 43-year-old must first win the state election in Rhineland-Palatinate in March, and show she can govern successfully.
Ms. Klöckner is already ahead in one race: Her book is selling better.
At the party conference, at least, Mr. Spahn's book was largely ignored at the bookstand of its publisher, according to an employee at the stand. Ms. Klöckner’s book, the employee said, “sold best of all.”
Daniel Delhaes reports on politics, transport and airlines from Handelsblatt's Berlin office. To contact the author: [email protected]