A look at the contenders for Angela Merkel’s job
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.