This file photo shows the top candidates for the Christian Democratic Union (from left) party's leadership corporate lawyer and former CDU parliamentary group leader Friedrich Merz, CDU secretary general Annegret KrampKarrenbauer and Health Minister Jens Spahn after introducing themselves to the board of the CDU Women’s Union, in Berlin on November 9
‘Slap in the face’
How the delegates will vote is anyone’s guess, with most keeping their cards close to their vests.
Nearly all hold political office or party posts. One-third are women.
After more than a decade in the private sector, Merz says his conservative credentials and business savvy make him best placed to win back disaffected voters.
But he touched a nerve when he said the CDU, in his absence, had accepted the rise of the farright Alternative for Germany
(AfD) party during the refugee crisis ‘shrugging its shoulders’.
“I get icy chills down my spine when I see people running around in this country doing the Hitler salute,” he told one regional conference.
Kramp-Karrenbauer, who has criticised some aspects of Merkel’s border policy, shot back that Merz’s accusation was a ‘slap in the face’ for the party’s foot soldiers.
“Pretending you could just say or decide something and
then the fight against the AfD would be won is naive,” she told the weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. The CDU remains Germany’s biggest party.
But the 33 per cent it scored in the September 2017 general election has sunk to around 28 per cent in opinion polls as the party suffered losses in a string of regional votes.
While still seen as Europe’s
go-to leader on crises from Brexit to Ukraine, Merkel has watched her standing diminish at the top of a loveless ‘grand coalition’with the Social Democrats (SPD).
They are faring even worse in the polls, as internal divisions over its former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s sweeping labour market reforms continue to fester.
CDU stalwarts expect a Merkel nostalgia-fest in Hamburg as the faithful bid a gradual
goodbye to the woman who won them four national elections.
But newsweekly Der Spiegel noted that the leadership struggle needed to produce some sort of consensus on Merkel’s legacy if the party wants to avoid the fate of the SPD.
“Without a critical reckoning with her era, the CDU will be stuck in an interminable therapy session,” it said. “The CDU has to allow it, even if it seems to many like matricide.”
Sooner or later, whoever becomes the leader of CDU will probably become chancellor