Germans salute Angela – and welcome Annegret as new party leader
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday offered a staunch defence of her moderate course during 18 years as party leader, as her Christian Democratic Union chose between a loyal deputy and a longtime rival to succeed her.
Accepting a lengthy standing ovation from delegates, many tearful and holding “Thanks, boss” placards aloft, a visibly moved Merkel said the party had won four national elections under her by holding fast to its principles.
“In difficult times we shouldn’t forget our Christian and democratic stance,” she said.
Pointing to the rise of populism worldwide and what she called a breakdown of shared Western values, Merkel said the order she had championed was at risk.
“Whether it’s the rejection of multilateralism, the return to nationalism, the reduction of international co-operation to deal-making or threatened trade wars ... hybrid warfare, destablisation of societies with fake news or the future of our EU – we Christian Democrats must show in the face of all these challenges what we’ve got,” she said.
The two main candidates, CDU general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, known as AKK, and corporate lawyer Friedrich Merz, were locked in a battle over whether to embrace or break with the veteran chancellor’s legacy.
A third contender, health minister Jens Spahn, 38, an outspoken critic of Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome more than one million asylum seekers to Germany, was a distant third.
But it was Kramp-Karrenbauer, a close ally of Merkel, who won the tight race to succeed her as party leader on Friday, seeing off the longtime rival of the German chancellor.
The contest, which required a runoff vote to secure a 52% majority for Kramp-Karrenbauer, is expected to increase the likelihood that Merkel will be able to see out her fourth term until 2021.
Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, pledged to maintain continuity after 18 years of Merkel at the helm while opening up the Christian Democratic Union to more grassroots democracy.
In a brief, upbeat address before the vote that brought many delegates to their feet, she called on the party to reject the politics of fear as the farright makes inroads in Germany and Europe.
“We must have the courage to stay the course against the Zeitgeist,” she said.
Kramp-Karrenbauer beat Merz, 63, who had quit politics in 2009 after losing a power struggle against Merkel and long nursed a grudge against the more centrist chancellor.
THANKS: End of the Merkel era