Ger­many’s rul­ing party se­lects new leader

Merkel ally seen as more con­ser­va­tive, busi­ness-friendly

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - GEIR MOULSON AND KER­STIN SOPKE

AMBURG — An­gela Merkel’s cen­tre-right party elected an ally of the long­time Ger­man chan­cel­lor as its new leader on Fri­day, opt­ing for con­ti­nu­ity and ex­pe­ri­ence as it handed her the chal­lenge of open­ing a new chap­ter and im­prov­ing the party’s elec­toral for­tunes.

An­negret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, 56, nar­rowly de­feated one-time Merkel ri­val Friedrich Merz to be­come the Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union’s new chair­woman. The vote came hours af­ter the party feted Merkel with a lengthy stand­ing ova­tion as she wrapped up 18 years at the helm.

Merkel has said she plans to re­main chan­cel­lor un­til Ger­many’s next elec­tion, which is due in 2021 but could come ear­lier. Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, the CDU gen­eral sec­re­tary since Fe­bru­ary and pre­vi­ously a pop­u­lar state gov­er­nor, is now the favourite to run for chan­cel­lor in that vote.

That isn’t au­to­matic, but all but two of Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer’s seven pre­de­ces­sors as CDU leader be­came chan­cel­lor.

She was quick to call for party unity af­ter de­feat­ing Merz 517-482 on Fri­day, say­ing “there is a place in this party” for Merz and Health Min­is­ter Jens Spahn, who was elim­i­nated in a first round of vot­ing at a congress in Ham­burg.

Merz stood for a more con­ser­va­tive, busi­ness-friendly ap­proach than Merkel, while Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer — of­ten known as “AKK” — was closer to Merkel’s cen­trist stance. Kramp­Kar­ren­bauer said she wants to en­sure that the CDU avoids the fate of shrink­ing cen­tre-right par­ties in France and else­where.

“We’re a bit like the last uni­corn in Europe — the last big peo­ple’s party that still ex­ists,” she told del­e­gates be­fore the vote. “I want that to be the case to­mor­row, too. This Europe, this Ger­many, this world needs a strong CDU.”

Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer has shown a greater will­ing­ness than Merkel to cater to con­ser­va­tive rhetoric, and on Fri­day re­jected the no­tion that she would be a Merkel clone.

“I’ve read a lot about what I am and who I am — ‘mini,’ ‘a copy,’ ‘sim­ply

Hcar­ry­ing on the same way,’” she said. “I stand here as I am and how life has formed me, and I am proud of that.” She de­scribed her­self as a mother of three “who knows her­self how dif­fi­cult it is to rec­on­cile fam­ily and pro­fes­sional life” and listed her long ex­pe­ri­ence in re­gional gov­ern­ment.

Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer was the first woman to be a Ger­man state’s in­te­rior min­is­ter, or top se­cu­rity of­fi­cial, and served as the gov­er­nor of western Saar­land state, de­fy­ing ex­pec­ta­tions to win re-elec­tion by a wide mar­gin last year. In Fe­bru­ary, she gave up the gov­er­nor’s job to be­come the CDU’s gen­eral sec­re­tary, man­ag­ing the party’s day-to-day po­lit­i­cal strat­egy.

In 18 years of ex­pe­ri­ence, she said she “learned that lead­er­ship is more about in­ter­nal strength than ex­ter­nal vol­ume.” And she said the CDU must at­tract vot­ers with its own ideas, not by com­pet­ing to see “who at­tacks our po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents the hard­est.”

In his speech, Merz high­lighted the need to tackle the “in­tol­er­a­ble” suc­cess of the far-right Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many party and called for a more com­bat­ive ap­proach to­ward the CDU’s ri­vals in the po­lit­i­cal cen­tre ground.

Merz, who was the CDU’s par­lia­men­tary leader un­til he was pushed out of the job by Merkel in 2002, had sought a spec­tac­u­lar come­back in Fri­day’s vote af­ter a decade away from front-line pol­i­tics.

Merkel has been CDU leader since

2000 and chan­cel­lor since 2005. She has moved her party re­lent­lessly to the cen­tre, drop­ping mil­i­tary con­scrip­tion, ac­cel­er­at­ing Ger­many’s exit from nuclear en­ergy and in­tro­duc­ing ben­e­fits such as en­cour­ag­ing fa­thers to look af­ter their young chil­dren. She also al­lowed the in­tro­duc­tion of gay mar­riage, which Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer was more ve­he­ment in op­pos­ing.

Most con­tro­ver­sially, Merkel al­lowed in large num­bers of mi­grants in 2015. Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer has talked tough on im­mi­gra­tion is­sues in re­cent weeks, but warned that end­lessly re­hash­ing the de­bate about Merkel’s 2015 de­ci­sion on mi­grants is a turn-off for vot­ers

In her farewell speech as leader, the

64-year-old Merkel said Fri­day that “our CDU to­day is dif­fer­ent from the year 2000, and that is a good thing.”

For years, Merkel’s pop­u­lar­ity lifted the CDU and its Bavaria-only sis­ter party, the Chris­tian So­cial Union. In the 2013 elec­tion, they won 41.5 per cent of the vote and only just fell short of an out­right par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity.

At present, the cen­tre-right bloc is polling around or be­low 30 per cent. Merkel’s fourth-term gov­ern­ing coali­tion with the cen­tre-left So­cial Democrats has lurched through a se­ries of crises since tak­ing of­fice in March, and the CDU has lost sup­port­ers both to the lib­eral Greens and to Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many.

Merkel, how­ever, re­called that the CDU was in a deep cri­sis when she took over in 2000, mired in a party fi­nanc­ing scan­dal sur­round­ing ex-chan­cel­lor Hel­mut Kohl. She said it “kept a cool head” to re­cover.

“I wasn’t born as chan­cel­lor or as party leader,” she said. “I have al­ways wanted to do my gov­ern­ment and party jobs with dig­nity, and one day to leave them with dig­nity... now it is time to open a new chap­ter.”

Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer said the com­pe­ti­tion to suc­ceed Merkel “has given us lift.” It was the first con­tested CDU lead­er­ship elec­tion since 1971.

“This up­swing must con­tinue,” she said.

CHRIS­TIAN CHARISIUS / DPA

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel (right) congratulates newly elected Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union chair­woman An­negret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer.

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