Merkel’s party chooses her pro­tégé as next leader

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - NEWS - PAUL CAR­REL MADE­LINE CHAM­BERS

Ger­many’s Chris­tian Democrats elected An­negret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer on Fri­day to re­place An­gela Merkel as party leader, a de­ci­sion that moves her into pole po­si­tion to suc­ceed Europe’s most in­flu­en­tial leader as chan­cel­lor.

Ms. Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, 56, is Ms. Merkel’s pro­tégé and was the con­ti­nu­ity can­di­date favoured by the party elite. She won the lead­er­ship with 517 votes out of 999 votes cast by del­e­gates. Her ri­val, Friedrich Merz, won 482 votes in a run off.

A for­mer state premier in Saar­land, where she led a three-party coali­tion, Ms. Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer has a rep­u­ta­tion for unit­ing sup­port across the con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union (CDU) and a tal­ent for strik­ing al­liances with other par­ties.

Some­times dubbed “mini Merkel,” Ms. Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer is ad­mired by the CDU up­per ech­e­lons for her ap­peal across the party.

“I have read a lot about what I am and who I am: ‘mini,’ a copy, sim­ply ‘more of the same.’ Dear del­e­gates, I stand be­fore you as I am and as life made me and I am proud of that,” Ms. Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer said in a pas­sion­ate speech to the congress.

Play­ing up her ex­pe­ri­ence in re­gional gov­ern­ment, she added to cheers and loud ap­plause: “I learned what it is to lead – and above all learned that lead­er­ship is more about be­ing strong on the in­side than be­ing loud on the out­side.”

Ms. Merkel said in Oc­to­ber she would step down as party chief but re­main Chan­cel­lor, an ef­fort to man­age her exit af­ter a se­ries of set­backs since her di­vi­sive de­ci­sion in 2015 to keep Ger­man bor­ders open to refugees flee­ing war in the Mid­dle East.

Dur­ing the lead­er­ship cam­paign, Mr. Merz de­lighted rankand-file CDU mem­bers hun­gry for a more clearly de­fined party af­ter 13 years of con­sen­sus-type lead­er­ship un­der Ms. Merkel by call­ing for tax cuts and a more ro­bust ap­proach to tack­ling the far right.

But the party del­e­gates – many of them ca­reer politi­cians – pre­ferred Ms. Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, of­ten known by her ini­tials, AKK.

“She is a safe bet: a cen­trist can­di­date who does not threaten nasty sur­prises,” said Josef Joffe, pub­lisher-ed­i­tor of weekly Die Zeit. “Merz was just a bit too freemar­ket, pro-Amer­i­can and pro-de­fence. Also, his pitch to the con­ven­tion was wooden com­pared to AKK’s pas­sion­ate ap­peal. Still, he forced her into a run off, which sug­gests that AKK will pre­side over a di­vided party.”

There was ju­bi­la­tion as the re­sult of the run off was an­nounced. A tear­ful Ms. Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer thanked her ri­vals and in­vited them to share the stage with her in a show of party unity, which del­e­gates ap­plauded.

The So­cial Democrats (SPD), junior partner in Ms. Merkel’s rul­ing coali­tion, con­grat­u­lated Ms. Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer and of­fered to work con­struc­tively with her.

Ms. Merkel, 64, has presided over Europe’s most pop­u­lous coun­try and pow­er­ful econ­omy for 13 years.

Ear­lier, an emo­tional Ms. Merkel bowed out as party leader, telling the congress: “It has been a great plea­sure for me, it has been an hon­our.”

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