Merkel’s cen­trist ally set to suc­ceed her as chan­cel­lor af­ter party lead­er­ship vic­tory

An­negret Kram­pkar­ren­bauer wins nar­row vote as head of CDU, beat­ing Friedrich Merz

The Daily Telegraph - - World news - By Jorg Luyken and Peter Foster in Ham­burg

AN­NEGRET KRAMP-KAR­REN­BAUER was elected as the leader of Ger­many’s govern­ing Chris­tian Demo­crat party yesterday, leav­ing the pro­tégé of An­gela Merkel as the Ger­man chan­cel­lor’s pre­sump­tive heir.

Af­ter win­ning a nail­ing-bit­ing vote at a party con­fer­ence in Ham­burg yesterday, the 56-year-old ca­reer politi­cian known as “AKK” saw off the chal­lenge of mil­lion­aire lawyer Friedrich Merz to win by just 35 votes in a se­cret bal­lot of around 1,000 del­e­gates.

The nar­row vic­tory laid bare the CDU’S in­ter­nal di­vi­sions af­ter a string of poor elec­tion re­sults fol­low­ing the 2015 mi­grant cri­sis, but now opens the door to a smooth tran­si­tion for when An­gela Merkel re­tires ahead of the 2021 gen­eral elec­tion.

The tight con­test was the first time since 1971 that there had been any com­pe­ti­tion for the post of CDU party leader, a tes­ta­ment to the rise of dis­agree­ments in the party over how to han­dle the resur­gence of the far-right Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AFD).

Mr Merz had de­manded a “new strat­egy” to con­front the pop­ulists, but Mrs Merkel struck back, us­ing her vale­dic­tory speech to make a coded ap­peal for del­e­gates to back Ms Kram­pkar­ren­bauer, the can­di­date seen as most likely to con­tinue on her cen­trist path.

The vet­eran chan­cel­lor re­minded del­e­gates that the last time the party scored a ma­jor vic­tory had been in state elec­tions in Saar­land last year – the home state of AKK.

Like­wise, Ms Kramp-kar­ren­bauer used her im­pas­sioned fi­nal pitch to del­e­gates to make clear that she also saw her re­spon­si­bil­ity as a van­guard against pop­ulism, but in the same way Merkel has done.

“We are the last sur­viv­ing, strong cen­tre-right party in Europe and I want to en­sure that re­mains the case. That we are even in this sit­u­a­tion is thanks to one per­son. I can only say from my heart – thank you, An­gela,” she said to re­sound­ing ap­plause.

Mr Merz by con­trast por­trayed him­self as the can­di­date of change. In his speech, he at­tacked the party lead­er­ship for fail­ing to stop the rise of the AFD.

He de­scribed it as “un­ac­cept­able” that the far-right party had be­come the big­gest op­po­si­tion party in Ger­many’s par­lia­ment, the Bun­destag.

The 63-year-old has spent a decade and a half away from front­line pol­i­tics, mak­ing mil­lions as a cor­po­rate lawyer, and his sup­port­ers saw him as the great hope for bring­ing the CDU back to its con­ser­va­tive roots.

In ac­cept­ing vic­tory, Ms Kram­pKar­ren­bauer made clear that it was now time for the two camps to re­unite ahead of cru­cial state elec­tions next year, of­fer­ing an olive branch to Mr Merz by say­ing she wanted to work with him at the top of the party.

The new leader spent decades in the back­wa­ters of Ger­man pol­i­tics, first as in­te­rior minister then as state leader in tiny Saar­land on the French border.

She was thrust into the spot­light in

‘We are the last sur­viv­ing, strong cen­tre-right party in Europe and I want to en­sure that re­mains the case’

Fe­bru­ary when Mrs Merkel ap­proved the mother-of-three to take over as party sec­re­tary fol­low­ing last year’s elec­tion flop.

Since then she has worked tire­lessly to re-en­gage with the party mem­ber­ship, trav­el­ling the coun­try to in­sti­gate de­bate on is­sues such as mil­i­tary con­scrip­tion.

Her chal­lenge now, an­a­lysts warned, will be to heal di­vi­sions at the heart of her party.

An­negret Kram­pkar­ren­bauer, known as 'AKK', gives her vic­tory speech af­ter win­ning the party vote yesterday

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