Christian Democracy

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The Christian Democracy is a political trend and in the political spectrum usually the bourgeois parties Act. Depending on the country, a party calling itself Christian- Democratic can address a different spectrum of political opinions. In the international overall view, the spectrum ranges from the left center to right positions; however, this does not mean that every single party fully covers this spectrum. Depending on the country or definition, Christian democracy also includes conservative tendencies. In terms of social policy , Christian social teaching is an essential position that dominates the political agenda, especially in less developed countries.

Some Christian Democratic parties are major political parties of the center-right and classic government parties, others rather small and minority representatives. In Western Europe, there is a tendency for Christian Democratic parties to become smaller and soften their Christian character.

In German-speaking countries, the CDU / CSU in Germany , the ÖVP in the Republic of Austria , the SVP in South Tyrol , the CSV in Luxembourg , the CVP in Switzerland and the CSP in East Belgium see themselves as Christian Democrats. At the international level, Christian Democratic parties are united in the Christian Democratic International , in Europe in the European People's Party .

Ideas and origins

One of the roots of Christian democratic thought is the Catholic social doctrine and evangelical social ethics . It is based on an image of man that ascribes dignity, diversity, equality and imperfection to man as God's creature and derives basic values ​​such as freedom, democratic co-determination and social justice from this.

The democratic-social content separates Christian democracy from the actual conservatives, who historically not least represented the nobility. The Christian Democrats are different from the fundamentally religious (for example radical Christians), but also from the purely clerical (who defend the power of the Catholic Church) because they demand tolerance for their Christianity and, accordingly, have to be at least fundamentally tolerant of other worldviews .

The phrase democratie chrétienne first encountered in a speech by Antoine-Adrien Lamourette in the legislative national assembly in Paris on November 21, 1791. Due to the increasingly anti-Christian orientation of the French Revolution after 1793, traditional Christianity in Europe was faced with a strong opponent. Enlightenment and liberalism were against the church's influence in government, education and legislation (including marriage legislation). Church currents reacted to this in different ways, for example in Germany with a broad popular movement that addressed and politicized the masses. So a new major trend developed alongside social democracy and liberalism .

Pope Leo XIII. (Term of office 1878–1903) combined the pursuit of church power with social engagement.

The papal encyclical Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII is generally used as the founding document of political Christian democracy . from 1891, in which the Vatican , in response to the Industrial Revolution , first dealt with the new situation of the workers . The ideas contained in it were not new, because Pope Leo XIII. was based heavily on Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler , a German bishop and philosopher, and his book "The Workers' Question and Christianity" published in 1864, the content of which is very similar to Rerum Novarum .

In France at that time, in the 19th century, a reform movement emerged within the church with the term "Christian Democracy" ( démocratie chrétienne ). Pope Leo XIII. restricted this direction to social welfare (encyclical Graves de communi re of 1901) and thus limited it politically.

With the encyclical Quadragesimo anno from 1931 by Pope Pius XI. Faced with the challenge of totalitarian ideologies, the Roman Catholic Church concretized its position on the freedom of the individual. This encyclical describes the principle of subsidiarity that is fundamental to Christian democratic philosophy . It follows the principles of "private before state", that is, the priority of the responsibility of the individual over state intervention and "small before large", where the state acts. This results in the principle that the state should be organized as decentrally as possible. However, there is also an obligation to provide subsidiary help if the smaller, weaker unit is unable to fulfill a task (detailed in Mater et magistra , 1961). In Germany, the Jesuit Oswald von Nell-Breuning was an influential author here. In addition, the writings of the philosopher Jacques Maritain are considered to be an important inspiration for Christian Democratic thought.

The principle of solidarity is also advocated. The economy should be at the service of the people. This results in the taming of capitalism in the social market economy . A significant influence in the formulation of Christian Democratic policy has been attributed to the positions of the churches on questions of public morality. The position of marriage and family is of particular importance in Christian Democratic thinking . Some scholars also attribute a greater willingness to cooperation between different social classes, for example between workers and entrepreneurs , and a greater willingness to reach political compromises compared to other political currents.

With reference to initiatives by the World Council of Churches since the 1980s, the preservation of creation is now understood as a central principle.

Typically Christian Democratic parties emerged mainly in countries with a large Catholic population. There they often achieved a dominant position in the party system.

Christian democracy was realized in different organizations in the late 19th and 20th centuries. In addition to Christian Democratic parties, the movement also spawned trade unions, charities, and other organizations. The Christian trade unions set themselves apart from the trade unions that arose from the socialist workers. In some cases, research even asserts a typically Christian-Democratic type of welfare state.

Arend Lijphart developed the consociational approach to democracy. Paolo Alberti and Robert Leonhardi see great similarities with Christian Democracy. Both emerged from a pluralistic context in which elites work together in a pillar-built framework to stabilize the political system. The common good is emphasized and the broadest possible consensus is sought. Alberti and Leonhardi see the similarity in the way that social groups from the Catholic world were united in (earlier) Christian Democratic parties such as the Italian Democrazia Cristiana and the Dutch Katholieke Volkspartij . Other parties also had contact with social groups, but with these parties they had direct influence on party organs and electoral lists.

Christian Democratic Parties

Today, Christian democracy is often equated with its most powerful form, the political parties. The Political Science she shares with the civil one parties. The first Christian Democratic parties to call themselves that were founded around 1830 in Belgium , Ireland and France. They had a liberal-democratic orientation. After the First World War, the first Christian Democratic parties as we understand them today were established in Italy . A more center-oriented position in economic and social policy is typical , because both employers and employees should be integrated. When it comes to sociocultural issues, the parties tend to be center-right to right.

The heyday of the Christian Democratic parties came in the decades after the Second World War. They played a particularly significant role in countries such as Italy, Germany, France and the Benelux countries . After 1990, a sometimes drastic decline can be observed in several countries.

The names for such parties sometimes differ widely. Often the name components are “social” and “democratic” or “Christian”. In Portugal, for example, the Christian Democrats call themselves Partido Social Democrata , i.e. the Social Democratic Party. In France and Wallonia, the Christian C became a center .

Christian Democrats rarely ally themselves with large right-wing or center-right parties. Usually they feel closer to liberal or social democratic parties.


The Flemish Yves Leterme was Belgium's Christian Democratic Prime Minister until 2011.

There are three Christian Democratic parties in Belgium, one for each language community :

In Flanders in particular, the Christian Democrats have dominated for a long time (and thus partly also all of Belgium), until 2001 under the name Christelijke Volkspartij. For a long time, however, they had been facing considerable competition in the center-right from the liberal Open VLD . In the parliamentary elections in 2010 , the CD&V had to cede its leading role to the Flemish-national-minded Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie . The Christian Democrats in Wallonia had already fallen to the rank of a rather small to at most medium-sized party. In 2002 they removed the word Christian from their party name. Only the CSP was able to remain the greatest force in its area, albeit with a smaller lead than before.


Development of the parties in Germany

In Germany there had been the Center Party since 1870 , which was founded to defend Catholicism and therefore hardly attracted any Protestants. It remained relatively small with 10 to 20 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, she had already had political influence during the German Empire, around the end of the 1870s. In the Weimar Republic (1918–1933) it even provided most of the Chancellors.

After the Second World War, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany and, in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria were founded (the CDU as a party at federal level only in 1950). Both parties do not compete against each other in elections and have a common parliamentary group in the Bundestag. They expressly address both Catholics and Protestants, but are also open to those who are not religiously bound and followers of other religions. They combine social liberal, economic liberal, Christian-ethical, conservative and national currents. About the CSU it is said that it tends to be further to the right than the CDU. In economic and social policy, on the other hand, the CSU is considered to be oriented towards the welfare state.

In the GDR there was the block party Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) , which in 1990 became part of the all-German CDU.

The broad collection made it possible for the CDU / CSU in the old Federal Republic to become a large people 's party ; it ruled the Bund longer than the other big party, the Social Democratic Party of Germany . The CDU / CSU benefited from the consequences of the Second World War: the loss of the eastern territories meant that the conservatives of the Weimar Republic had lost their strongholds. The integration of the expellees meant that there were fewer purely Catholic or purely Protestant areas in the Federal Republic. Conservative-regionalist parties such as the German Party or the Bavarian Party were harassed by the changes to the electoral law of 1953 and 1957, according to which five percent of the second votes in the federal territory or three direct mandates are required for entry into the Bundestag, while previously five percent in a federal state or one Direct mandate was sufficient. In addition, until 1950 the licensing policy of the occupying powers initially prevented the emergence of openly anti-democratic right-wing parties.

In addition to the CDU / CSU, there are also clerical or fundamentally religious parties in Germany, such as the Christian Center or Alliance C - Christians for Germany . So far, however, they have only won a few seats in local parliaments in elections.


The forerunner of the French Christian Democracy can be seen as the movement Le Sillon (“The Furrow”), which was founded in 1894 by the then still young Marc Sangnier , which wanted to offer Christian workers an alternative to the materialism and anti-clericalism of the socialists. In the interwar period there was the Parti Démocrate Populaire (PDP) as a Christian Democratic party, which only achieved election results of around 3%.

After the Second World War, the Mouvement républicain populaire (MRP; "People's Republicans") emerged, a strong Christian Democratic movement that was the strongest bourgeois party in the immediate post-war period (roughly on a par with the communists) and was the head of government several times. With Robert Schuman she also produced one of the most important architects of European integration. But it was soon overtaken by the national conservative Gaullists , to whom it lost the majority of its voters.

After the Constitution of the Fifth Republic came into force, which further diminished its importance, the MRP renamed itself the Center démocrate and split in 1969 over the question of whether to support the Gaullist presidential candidate Georges Pompidou . In 1976, both Christian Democratic parties merged again to form the Center des démocrates sociaux (CDS), which existed until 1995 as part of the civic party alliance Union pour la démocratie française (UDF) founded to support Valéry Giscard d'Estaing . In 1995 the CDS merged with the social democratic Parti Social-Démocrate (PSD) , also belonging to the UDF, to form the Force démocrate (FD), after which there was no longer a real Christian Democratic party in France. The UDF electoral alliance was transformed into a unified party in 1998. Most of their functionaries, however, came from the Christian Democratic tradition of the CDS.

Since the 1970s, the Gaullists have also increasingly occupied the right-wing center, which has led to the fact that the parties in the political center have become increasingly competitive and lose their importance. As a reaction to this, in 2001 the (post) Gaullist Rassemblement pour la République (RPR) was accepted as a French member of the actually Christian Democratic European People's Party (EPP). The UDF, on the other hand, left the EPP in 2004, which in its view had opened up too far to the right and moved away from its European-federalist positions, and instead took part in the founding of the European Democratic Party (EDP). After the center-right camp was reorganized in 2002, part of the UDF went over to the right presidential camp (UMP, since 2015 Les Républicains ) as the Nouveau Center , the rest renamed themselves Mouvement démocrate (MoDem) and positioned themselves midway between the two major political camps. Furthermore, the small party Forum des républicains sociaux (FRS) or, since 2009, Parti chrétien-démocrate (PCD), which has the status of an associated party of the UMP, is also part of the Christian Democracy .


September 1980: The last meeting of the Anti-revolutionaire Partij before the merger to form the CDA.

In the Netherlands there were three major Christian parties until 1980, of which the Katholieke Volkspartij was the largest. With the two smaller Protestant (Calvinist) parties ARP and CHU , it entered the 1977 elections for the first time with a joint list, followed in 1980 by the formal merger of KVP, ARP and CHU to form the Christian-Democratisch Appèl . The party is considered to be the center-right and classic ruling party: In 1977–1994 and 2002–2010, the CDA provided the prime minister. In 1963, the three parties together received almost half of all votes, in 1972 it was not even a third. In 2010 the CDA fell to 13.6 percent and in 2012 to around eight. In terms of size, it is at most in the lower midfield and has had to give up its previously dominant position to the right-wing liberals ( VVD ). In the provinces it is sometimes even stronger than at the national level.

In addition, two other Christian (although not really Christian Democratic) parties are represented in parliament. They are called "Orthodox-Calvinist". The ChristenUnie is similar to the Christian parties in Scandinavia. It was founded in 2001 as an association of older parties ( GPV and RPF ) and represents strictly religious Calvinists. It is in the center-left on economic and social policy issues as well as environmental protection and refugees, while it takes strictly conservative positions on ethical and social issues (abortion, drugs, homosexual marriage, euthanasia). The theocratic Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP) is religiously even stricter to fundamentalist, especially monarchistic and demands absolute observance of Sunday rest and the ban on swearing . She has been criticized nationally and internationally for rejecting women in politics. These two parties have low but stable election results. The ChristenUnie was part of the government (2007-2010). Apart from that, there were also small left-wing Christian parties in the past, most recently the Evangelical People's Party , which was merged into GroenLinks in 1991 .


The Catholic priest Luigi Sturzo is considered one of the founding fathers of European Christian Democracy.

The Partito Popolare Italiano (PPI) Don Luigi Sturzos , founded in 1919, was one of the first Christian Democratic parties in Europe and thus a model for many party foundations in other countries. From it emerged in 1942 the Democrazia Cristiana , which was the dominant political force in Italy until about 1992/1993 and which consisted of the prime minister until the 1980s. However, this often required a coalition of several parties, with the DC itself already forming an alliance of different directions, from more left trade unionists to conservative forces. Overall, the party was anchored in the political center.

After the major corruption scandals in the early 1990s, the party sank below thirty percent of the vote in 1992, lost further cohesion and disbanded in 1993. Their successor party was again called Partito Popolare Italiano , but only had about 10% of the vote until it merged in 2002 with various - also non-Christian Democratic - parties of the (left) center to form La Margherita .

Further successor parties emerged from the ruins of the DC that no longer exist. As an independent Christian Democratic party, the Unione dei Democratici Cristiani e di Centro was most important in the 2000s, with election results of five or six percent; In 2013 it fell to 1.8 percent. It stands in the middle, but also represents right-wing conservative positions (for example with regard to abortion and gay marriage).

From 1994 onwards, many Christian Democratic politicians and voters went over to Forza Italia Silvio Berlusconis , which in 1999 - although it was not actually a Christian Democratic party - was accepted into the European People's Party (EPP). La Margherita, successor party of the PPI (and thus indirectly the Democrazia Cristiana), on the other hand, left the EPP in 2004, which it had become too conservative and no longer pro-European enough, and instead took part in the founding of the European Democratic Party (EDP). Former Christian Democrats are now scattered across the major party alliances and new parties from both the center-left and right. There is talk of a “Christian Democratic Diaspora ”.


In Switzerland, the Christian Democratic People's Party (CVP) is the leading force in the Christian Democratic camp. The CVP emerged from the Catholic Conservative Party , which was founded in 1882 and soon became a state sponsor , and is still particularly strong today in traditionally Catholic areas ( Central Switzerland , Valais , Appenzell Innerrhoden ). The CVP occupies a middle position in the political spectrum of the Swiss parties. As a result of the advancing secularization of society and under the pressure of the national-conservative Swiss People's Party (SVP), which is increasingly successful in Catholic cantons , it has suffered from a steady decline in voters since the 1970s. Nevertheless, it is represented in all the cantonal parliaments and provides for the Swiss Federal Election, 2011 27 of the 200 national councils and 13 of 46 Ständerate . Today, with Viola Amherd, she is only one of the seven federal councilors (from 1959 to 2003 there were two according to the “ magic formula ”).

The much smaller Christian Social Party (CSP), which is currently not represented in the federal parliament, is only active in individual cantons . The small Evangelical People's Party (EPP) can also be assigned to the Christian Democratic spectrum. When it comes to socio-economic issues, education, environmental, immigration and asylum policy, it is comparatively left-wing, but it is conservative when it comes to value-related issues such as euthanasia, abortion or gay marriage.


No Christian Democratic parties in the strict sense of the word emerged in Scandinavia. There, conservative, national liberal and centrist (center-oriented) parties dominate in the center and right . There are certainly Christian parties whose strength is a few percentage points. They represent minorities, namely not the Lutheran state churches, but independent groups of strongly religious innovators. Furthermore, these parties are relatively young. Nevertheless, they have been able to gain political influence since around 1990 and have also participated in governments.

The parties in detail:

South America

Christian Democratic parties emerged in South America since the 1940s. The Partido Demócrata Cristiano in Chile and the COPEI in Venezuela in particular became powerful political forces in their countries. This also applies to Central American countries such as Costa Rica , Nicaragua and El Salvador .

East Central Europe

After the communist systems collapsed in East Central Europe in 1989 , Christian Democratic parties emerged there too. Their influence and importance is very different. Here, decades of atheistic traditions play a negative role for these parties. Poland , which is traditionally Catholic, is an exception . Paradoxically, no Christian Democratic parties in the narrower sense developed there, but only parties that took up individual elements of Christian Democracy.


  • Winfried Becker (Ed.): Lexicon of Christian Democracy in Germany. Schöningh, Paderborn 2002.
  • Günter letter, Rudolf Uertz (Hrsg.): Christian democracy in Europe growing together. Developments, programs, perspectives. Herder, Freiburg 2004.
  • Michael Gehler , Wolfram Kaiser, Helmut Wohnout (eds.): Christian Democracy in Europe in the 20th Century. Böhlau, Vienna a. a. 2001, ISBN 3-205-99360-8 .
  • Michael Gehler, Wolfram Kaiser: Christian Democracy in Europe Since 1945. Routledge, London / New York 2004.
  • Timotheos Frey : The Christian Democracy in Western Europe. The fine line to success. Nomos, Baden-Baden 2009, ISBN 978-3-8329-4264-9 .
  • Stathis N. Kalyvas: The rise of Christian Democracy in Europe. Cornell University Press, Ithaca 1996.
  • Wolfram Kaiser: Christian Democracy and the Origins of European Union. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge / New York 2007.
  • Thomas Köhler, Christian Mertens, Michael Spindelegger (eds.): Upstream. Christian Democracy in the Postmodern 21st Century. Vienna u. a. 2003, ISBN 3-205-77112-5 .
  • Hans Maier: Revolution and Church. On the early history of Christian democracy. CH Beck, Munich 2006.
  • Scott Mainwaring, Timothy R. Scully (Eds.): Christian Democracy in Latin America. Electoral Competition and Regime Conflicts. Stanford University Press, Stanford (CA) 2003.
  • Maria Mitchell: The Origins of Christian Democracy. Politics and Confession in Modern Germany. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2012.
  • Steven Van Hecke, Emmanuel Gerard (Eds.): Christian Democratic Parties in Europe since the End of the Cold War. Leuven University Press, Leuven 2004.
  • Kees van Kersbergen: Social Capitalism. A Study of Christian Democracy and the Welfare State. Routledge, London 1995.

Web links

Commons : Christian Democracy  - Collection of Images

supporting documents

  1. Toni Keppeler: Just populism? Political culture in Latin America and the legacy of left-wing icons | APuZ. Retrieved April 4, 2019 .
  2. See: Peter Godzik : Values ​​of a Christian-Oriented Politics. Contribution to a book project , Ratzeburg 2003 (online at .
  3. Safeguarding Creation and Climate Justice - World Council of Churches. Retrieved April 4, 2019 .
  4. ^ Paolo Alberti, Robert Leonardi: The Consociational Construction of Christian Democracy. In: Steven Van Hecke, Emmanuel Gerard (Eds.): Christian Democratic Parties in Europe since the End of the Cold War. Leuven University Press, Leuven 2004, pp. 21–41, here pp. 31/32.
  5. On the decline see Steven Van Hecke: A Decade of Seized Opportunities. Christian Democracy in the European Union. In: Steven van Hecke, Emmanuel Gerard (ed.): Christian Democratic Parties in Europe since the End of the Cold War. Leuven University Press, 2004 (= KADOC Studies on Religion, Culture and Society 1), pp. 269–295, here p. 274.
  6. Ute Schmidt: The Christian Democratic Union of Germany. In: Richard Stöss (Ed.): Party Handbook. The parties of the Federal Republic of Germany 1945–1980. Special edition. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1986 (1983), pp. 490-660, here p. 490, p. 494/495.
  7. Jean-Claude Delbreil: Le parti démocrate populaire. Un parti démocrate chrétien français de l'entre-deux-guerres. In: Christian Democracy in Europe in the 20th Century. Böhlau, Vienna 2001, p. 77.
  8. Jean-Claude Delbreil: Le parti démocrate populaire. Un parti démocrate chrétien français de l'entre-deux-guerres. In: Christian Democracy in Europe in the 20th Century. Böhlau, Vienna 2001, p. 78.
  9. ^ A b David Hanley: Beyond the Nation State. Parties in the Era of European Integration. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke (Hampshire) 2008, p. 121.
  10. ^ Emmanuel Gerard, Steven Van Hecke: European Christian Democracy in the 1990s. Towards a Comparative Approach. In: Christian Democratic Parties in Europe Since the End of the Cold War. Leuven University Press, 2004, pp. 297-318, at p. 316.
  11. ^ Gianfranco Pasquino: Italy. The Never-ending Transition of a Democratic Regime. In Josep M. Colomer: Comparative European Politics. 3rd edition, Routledge, Abingdon (Oxon) / New York 2008, pp. 135-172, at p. 140.
  12. ^ John TS Madeley: Life at the Northern Margin. Christian Democracy in Scandinavia. In: Steven Van Hecke, Emmanuel Gerard (Eds.): Christian Democratic Parties in Europe since the End of the Cold War . Leuven University Press, Leuven 2004, pp. 217-241, here p. 219.
  13. Tim Bale, Aleks Szczerbiak: Why is there no Christian Democracy in Poland (and why does this matter)? SEI Working Paper No. 91.Sussex European Institute, Brighton, December 2006.