Merkel loyalist wins party leadership battle
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a close ally of Angela Merkel, won a tight race to succeed her as party leader yesterday, seeing off a longtime rival of the German chancellor. The contest, which required a runoff vote to secure a 52% majority for AKK as she is known, is expected to increase the likelihood that Merkel will be able to see out her fourth term until 2021. AKK, 56, pledged to maintain continuity after 18 years of Merkel at the helm while opening up the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to more grassroots democracy.
Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU) said a big thank you yesterday to Angela Merkel, their leader for the past 18 years, with warm words and long applause, and presenting her with a conductor’s baton as they elected her protégé to succeed her.
Merkel, a Lutheran who grew up in the former Communist East where she moved when she was an infant, has always been something of an outsider in the maledominated, Catholic party.
But her record of winning four elections cannot be denied and was not lost on CDU members.
Waving orange cards with the slogan “Thank you boss”, delegates cheered as Merkel, 64, walked onto the stage at the conference centre in Hamburg, her birthplace, to end an era for the party.
“We have had very successful years with Angela Merkel. She has led us for many years in government and that is the goal of a party,” said Julia Kloeckner, a deputy party leader.
“We need you as chancellor,” Kloeckner told the conference.
As chancellor of Europe’s biggest economy since 2005, Merkel has been the most influential leader in the European Union through the eurozone and migrant crises.
Forbes magazine has repeatedly named her the world’s most powerful woman.
She plans to stay on as chancellor until the next federal election, due by October 2021.
The choice of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, dubbed mini-Merkel, as her successor makes that a likely scenario.
“Merkel does not show much emotion herself but above all we respect her and want to show gratitude to her,” said Tobias Loose, a delegate from the northern state of Schleswig Holstein.
“I expect her to remain chancellor and even see her become a bigger star, especially internationally, as she sounds freer to say what she wants,” he added.
All the same, Merkel, a physicist, was fighting back tears when she gave a final speech as party leader, drawing a nearly 10 minute standing ovation.
“It has been a great pleasure for me, it has been an honour,” the chancellor said, adding it was time for a new chapter.
Her popularity has waned since her 2015 open-doors migrant policy and the CDU has suffered heavy electoral losses at the state level.
After losing support in the 2017 federal election, she struggled to forge a coalition which has been dogged by rows in the last six months.
She announced her decision to stand down as party leader in October.
But yesterday was a day to celebrate Merkel’s longevity.
As lines from The Kinks song blared out “Thank you for the days”, Volker Bouffier, premier of the state of the western state of Hesse, introduced a film of Merkel’s best moments.
Showing pictures of her laughing and grimacing, looking stern and having selfies taken with refugees at the height of the 2015 migrant crisis, the film thanked her for her humour, her humanity and character.
Pointing to her stamina and political nouse, Bouffier pointed out that the Hamburg soccer club had been through 24 trainers and her rival Social Democrats 10 chairpeople in the 18 years Merkel had led the CDU.
In a personal touch, he gave the music-loving chancellor the baton that Japanese conductor Kent Nagano had used at a concert of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony performed at last year’s Group of 20 summit in Hamburg.
Even Horst Seehofer, the former premier of Bavaria who has been a thorn in her side for years and nearly brought down her coalition in the summer due to a row over migrant policy, found kind words for her: “She is the best. We will all miss her.”
“When you have gone through as much as Angela Merkel and me, you are bound together. There is even affection,” he told Der Spiegel weekly.
Kramp-Karrenbauer won a tight run-off vote to succeed the chancellor.
Of the 999 votes cast at a party conference in Hamburg, 517 or 52% were in favour of KrampKarrenbauer, while 482 (48%) backed Friedrich Merz, a millionaire corporate lawyer who had been attempting a comeback after being sidelined by Merkel nearly a decade ago.
Securing the CDU top job represents a major step towards becoming chancellor once Merkel bows out of power in 2021.
The third candidate, Health Minister Jens Spahn, was eliminated in the first round of voting earlier yesterday.
The CDU’s secretary general, Kramp-Karrenbauer made her case ahead of the vote by saying the CDU had to maintain its position as the “last unicorn in Europe”, the bloc’s last successful catch-all party.
She also rejected claims that she was the “mini Merkel”.
“People consider me a ‘mini,’ a copy, a simple ‘more of the same’, but I can tell you that I stand here as my own person, just as life has shaped me and of that I am proud,” she told delegates attending the conference.
The 56-year-old former state premier gained the nickname because of her pragmatic centrist political style and her reputation as a Merkel loyalist.
Merz, a former CDU heavyweight who has repeatedly vowed to win back voters from the farright Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, said the fact that the AfD is Germany’s largest opposition party is “simply unbearable” and has to change.
“It threatens not only our ability to form a parliamentary majority, but also the very stability of our country,” he said. “We need a strategy change in relation to our competitors and in terms of the communication with people in our country.”
The AfD dismissed KrampKarrenbauer’s election as a continuation of the Merkel years.
“Kramp-Karrenbauer means: More of the same! It’s Merkel 2.0,” said an AfD parliamentary leader Alice Weidel yesterday.
One of Kramp-Karrenbauer’s early tests is likely to help stabilise the CDU’s fragile coalition with the crisis-hit centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).
However, SPD leader Andrea Nahles quickly offered KrampKarrenbauer the opportunity to work closely together and to continue the CDU-SPD coalition government in Berlin with the Christian Social Union (CSU), the CDU’s Bavarian sister party.
“Now it is time to solve problems: securing the future of pensions, recognising the value of work, strengthening cohesion in Europe,” Nahles said.
Merkel with CDU secretary general Kramp-Karrenbauer at the start of the party congress at a fair hall in Hamburg.