Merkel’s suc­ces­sor AKK seizes her day

DEREK SCALLY

The Irish Times - - Front Page - DEREK SCALLY in Ham­burg

Amid tears and cheers, Ger­many’s rul­ing cen­tre-right Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union backed evo­lu­tion over rev­o­lu­tion yesterday and elected an An­gela Merkel ally as its new leader.

Dr Merkel stood down af­ter 18 years and, af­ter the CDU’s most pas­sion­ate lead­er­ship race in half a cen­tury, del­e­gates elected as suc­ces­sor An­negret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer with a nar­row ma­jor­ity of just 35.

Wip­ing away tears, Ms Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer promised to unite the party and re­store trust in main­stream pol­i­tics.

“I ac­cept the elec­tion re­sult and thank all for their trust,” she said, se­cur­ing a stand­ing ova­tion af­ter cap­tur­ing 517 out of 999 del­e­gate votes – 51.8 per cent – in a sec­ond-round run-off.

Close be­hind her was Friedrich Merz, a con­ser­va­tive-liberal cor­po­rate lawyer who was edged out of the CDU by Dr Merkel in 2002.

Deny­ing he was still nurs­ing a grudge, Mr Merz re­turned to pol­i­tics promis­ing del­e­gates a “fresh start” un­der his lead­er­ship. Af­ter los­ing out yesterday, he promised “full sup­port for our new leader”.

Mind­ful of her nar­row vic­tory, Ms Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer asked Mr Merz and third-placed Jens Spahn, fed­eral health minister in Ber­lin who se­cured al­most 16 per cent sup­port, to join her party front bench.

In a pas­sion­ate pre-vote speech, Ms Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer de­nied she was a “mini” Merkel but, in her 18-year rise in the south­west­ern state of Saar­land, she learned that “lead­er­ship de­pends on in­ner strength, not vol­ume”.

Amid pres­sure by party con­ser­va­tives to shift the party right, she in­sisted the CDU must re­main a con­fi­dent party of the cen­tre and not one “look­ing fear­fully left and right”.

But she promised “courage for change” and a more open lead­er­ship style to build “a strong party that de­bates and thinks”.

It was a gen­tle swipe at the ap­proach of her pre­de­ces­sor, who hopes to serve out her term as chan­cel­lor to 2021.

Af­ter suc­ceed­ing Dr Merkel as CDU leader, yesterday’s vote opens the door to fol­low her into the chan­cellery.

With more than 1,800 in­ter­na­tional jour­nal­ists – and all of Europe – watch­ing, Ms Kramp Kar­ren­bauer promised to push Europen in­te­gra­tion, a Euro­pean army and EU se­cu­rity coun­cil.

“The ques­tion of whether the EU holds or falls apart . . . doesn’t lie in the stars, it lies with us,” she said.

First, the new CDU leader faces a se­ries of chal­lenges at home: boost slug­gish pub­lic sup­port at 28 per cent, beat back a grow­ing far-right chal­lenge and sal­vage Ber­lin’s strug­gling grand coali­tion with the So­cial Demo­cratic Party (SPD).

Her most press­ing task: to reach out to dis­ap­pointed CDU con­ser­va­tives and Merz sup­port­ers, drown­ing their sor­rows with free beer out­side the main hall and whis­per­ing about a split.

Many east­ern CDU del­e­gates were mourn­ful, see­ing a missed op­por­tu­nity with Mr Merz to take on the pop­ulist Al­ter­na­tive für Deutsch­land.

“The mood in the party grass­roots

‘‘ The ques­tion of whether the EU holds or falls apart . . . doesn’t lie in the stars, it lies with us

is ex­tremely tense; we need to unite af­ter this vote,” said one se­nior CDU of­fi­cial.

Merkel farewell

Ear­lier, af­ter 6,815 days and a fi­nal, 10-minute stand­ing ova­tion, a teary Merkel bowed outin the city of her birth.

“I’m filled with a great feel­ing of thanks; it was a joy and hon­our,” said Dr Merkel, her voice catch­ing with emo­tion for a split sec­ond, as she gazed out at a sea of del­e­gates in navy suits and pearl-twin­set com­bos.

Vis­i­bly un­bur­dened, she apol­o­gised to staff and party col­leagues, “driven de­mented” by her in­de­ci­sive­ness and her con­flict aver­sion to­wards po­lit­i­cal ri­vals.

And, in a fi­nal ri­poste to her crit­ics, she said she was “proud” of her con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to keep open Ger­man bor­ders three years ago to more than one mil­lion refugees and asy­lum seek­ers.

She men­tioned Brexit in half a sen­tence and de­liv­ered a dou­ble dig at US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Two days af­ter at­tend­ing the fu­neral of Ge­orge HW Bush, Dr Merkel thanked Bush for re­sist­ing tri­umphal­ism at the cold war’s end, and warned against aban­don­ing the post­war mul­ti­lat­eral or­der in favour of po­lit­i­cal as “deals”.

Be­fore she departed Ham­burg, her party gifted her a ba­ton, ded­i­cated to “world pol­i­tics’ most im­por­tant con­duc­tor”.

Ingo Sen­ftleben, del­e­gate from the east­ern state of Bran­den­burg, said: “She was an east­ern Ger­man and we feel pride and thanks.”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: THOMAS LOHNES/GETTY IM­AGES

An­negret Kram­pKar­ren­bauer, stand­ing next to An­gela Merkel, af­ter be­ing voted the next leader of the Chris­tian Democrats in Ham­burg.

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