A look at the con­tenders for An­gela Merkel’s job

The West Australian - - WORLD - Peter Foster Ham­burg

The race to suc­ceed An­gela Merkel as the leader of Ger­many’s rul­ing Chris­tian Democrats (CDU) was on a knife edge yesterday as the fi­nal stages of the lead­er­ship con­test reawak­ened po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions among the party’s old guard.

More than 1000 party del­e­gates were sched­uled to gather in Ham­burg late yesterday for a se­ries of votes to elect a new party leader who will in­stantly be­come odds-on favourite to be Ger­many’s next chan­cel­lor and leader of Europe’s most pow­er­ful econ­omy when Ms Merkel re­tires.

The con­test, trig­gered af­ter Ms Merkel an­nounced she would not stand for re-elec­tion af­ter a se­ries of poor elec­tion re­sults since the 2015 mi­grant cri­sis, has ex­posed ide­o­log­i­cal and per­sonal splits in a party that has ruled Ger­many for 49 of the past 69 years.

Three can­di­dates are vy­ing for the lead­er­ship, woo­ing del­e­gates and party faith­ful with eight rounds of hus­tings staged across Ger­many.

Im­mi­gra­tion has been a key is­sue, as the party strug­gles to come to grips with the po­lit­i­cal fall­out of a mi­grant cri­sis that has frac­tured Ger­many’s coali­tion pol­i­tics, shrunk the CDU’s vote and eased the rise of the far-Right Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD) party.

Friedrich Merz, a mil­lion­aire cor­po­rate lawyer, has taken the hardest line on the is­sue, crit­i­cis­ing the ap­proach of Ms Merkel, a long­stand­ing po­lit­i­cal ri­val who forced him out as the par­lia­men­tary leader in 2002.

Mr Merz warned against the risk of open bor­ders and the “un­reg­u­lated in­flux” of mi­grants into the coun­try, even at one point ques­tion­ing the con­sti­tu­tional right to asy­lum — an ar­ti­cle of faith in post-War Ger­many af­ter the hor­rors of the nazi era.

The 63-year-old fi­nancier swiftly re­tracted the idea af­ter be­ing con­demned by the two other can­di­dates, An­negret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, the party’s 56-year-old gen­eral sec­re­tary, and Jens Spahn, the 38-year-old health minister.

But he has main­tained a tough stance, im­plic­itly blam­ing Ms Merkel’s tack to the ide­o­log­i­cal cen­tre for al­low­ing the rise of the AfD and promis­ing to re­store the CDU’s clear-cut con­ser­va­tive iden­tity. Mr Merz be­lieves the strat­egy can re­turn the CDU to a 40 per cent share of the Ger­man vote, from its cur­rent low of just 27 per cent.

By con­trast, Ms Kram­pKar­ren­bauer — a so­cial con­ser­va­tive and Merkel pro­tege — es­pouses a more mid­dle-ground course, build­ing on the legacy of Ms Merkel’s 18 years at the helm, 13 of them as chan­cel­lor.

As a long­stand­ing re­gional prime minister, she has trum­peted her com­mit­ment to the party, telling one hus­ting of her “pro­found knowl­edge” of the CDU which came from bear­ing “re­spon­si­bil­ity for it for many years”. The im­plicit dig was at Mr Merz, who dis­ap­peared from front­line pol­i­tics af­ter 2002 and spent a decade earn­ing mil­lions in the cor­po­rate sec­tor.

The two lead­ing can­di­dates — the polls sug­gest Mr Spahn has faded to a dis­tant third place — are backed by op­pos­ing wings of the CDU, with Wolf­gang Schauble, the for­mer Ger­man fi­nance minister, who was also edged aside by Ms Merkel, en­dors­ing Mr Merz.

Ms Merkel has kept her coun­sel, choos­ing not to en­dorse Ms Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer pub­licly.

While polls show the party rank-and-file favour Ms Kram­pKar­ren­bauer, it is far from clear this ad­van­tage will be re­flected in the de­ci­sion of the del­e­gates with whom Mr Merz’s con­ser­va­tive cre­den­tials and or­a­tor­i­cal skills have strong ap­peal.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.