Merkel ally takes over as leader

Sunday Star-Times - - World -

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

An­negret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, 56, nar­rowly de­feated one­time Merkel ri­val Friedrich Merz yes­ter­day to be­come the Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union’s (CDU) 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 fa­vorite to run for chan­cel­lor in that vote.

She was quick to call for party unity after de­feat­ing Merz, say­ing ‘‘there is a place in this party’’ for Merz and Health Min­is­ter Jens Spahn, who was elim­i­nated in the first round of vot­ing.

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 wanted to en­sure that the CDU avoided the fate of shrink­ing cen­tre-right par­ties in France and else­where.

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

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, and served as gov­er­nor of western Saar­land state, de­fy­ing ex­pec­ta­tions to win re-elec­tion last year. In Fe­bru­ary, she gave up the gov­er­nor’s job to be­come the CDU’s gen­eral sec­re­tary.

In her farewell speech as leader, Merkel 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.

AP

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, right, con­grat­u­lates new Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union chair­woman An­negret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer.

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