Merkel party's battle with YouTubers escalates

Berlin (AFP) –


German Chancellor Angela Merkel's favoured successor plunged into a new social media storm Tuesday, with her apparent call for limits to free speech around elections stoking further anger rather than put down a raging youth-led YouTube revolt.

The comment by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer came after her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its centre-left coalition partner SPD suffered their worst scores in Sunday's European election.

The CDU, in particular, had been put on the back foot in the days leading up to the polls as 70 YouTube stars urged voters to punish the party for its failure to take adequate action to halt global warming.

Addressing the debacle on Monday night, Kramp-Karrenbauer called for checks on the online influencers, saying that if 70 newspaper editors had made a concerted call to boycott parties ahead of an election, that would be classed "clearly as propaganda".

"The question is... what are rules from the analogue realm and which rules should apply to the digital realm?

"I'll tackle this discussion quite aggressively," said Kramp-Karrenbauer, or AKK as she is dubbed in Germany.

Her comments immediately unleashed a storm on social media with #AKKRuecktritt (AKKresign), #annegate and #AKKgate making up the top three topics trending on Twitter in Germany.

Kramp-Karrenbauer then took to Twitter to defend her comments, saying it was "ridiculous to insinuate that I want to regulate expressions of opinion".

"Freedom of opinion is a precious value in a democracy.

"What we have to talk about are rules that apply during elections," she wrote on Twitter.

But that only fanned the fires, with both leading media and political figures rounding in to remind her of article five in the German constitution guaranteeing freedom of opinion, speech and writing.

"With her insulting musings on 'propaganda' and control of it, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer confirms the criticism of young YouTubers -- and reveals her authoritarian thinking," said Spiegel Online.

- 'Nonsense, no plan' -

For the German Federation of Journalists (DJV), AKK's call was "not just nonsense but also a violation of the constitution".

"The CDU party leader obviously has no plan how to go with free expressions of opinion on the Internet," DJV chairman Frank Ueberall told the Heilbronner Stimme newspaper.

"Her emotional reaction after the elections also shows a large degree of helplessness in the communications with the digital world."

Lars Klingbeil, general secretary of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), also warned that any attempt at limiting freedom of speech would "definitely not be possible with my party".

"This is absurd. Nobody would get upset if an actor or an athlete made an election recommendation", he added.

AKK, 56, replaced Merkel as head of the CDU last December and is expected to seek the top job when Merkel's term ends in 2021.

The CDU has been struggling to find a response after it was caught off guard by an almost hour-long blistering attack by online star Rezo, who blamed the centre-right-led coalition for failing to tackle poverty and climate change.

Put online on May 18, the clip had been viewed 12.7 million times by Tuesday, tumbling Merkel's party into crisis-fighting mode.

Rezo had also received the backing of 70 other influential online stars, and two days before the EU polls posted a call to shun the CDU, SPD as well as the far-right AfD.

The centre-right party ended up receiving just 13 percent of the vote among under-30s, compared to the Greens, which garnered three times as many.

The CDU's members themselves have also spoken out critically against the party's leadership's handling of the online revolt.

"Our own house has completely failed in the last few weeks, and now others should be to blame?", asked the chairman of the party's youth wing chairman Tilman Kuban in newspaper Welt.

Referring to the response of the CDU to Rezo's attack, Kuban said: "Anyone who answers a YouTuber with an eleven-page thesis would do better to get their own house in order rather than insult the next generation."