Merkel ally takes over as leader
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.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, congratulates new Christian Democratic Union chairwoman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.