Ger­man party picks Merkel ally to lead

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - International - GRIFF WITTE AND LUISA BECK

HAM­BURG, Ger­many — Ger­many’s con­ser­va­tives on Fri­day picked Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s pre­ferred suc­ces­sor as party leader, so­lid­i­fy­ing her legacy and giv­ing her the shot to gov­ern for as long as three more years.

The se­lec­tion of An­negret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, a 56-yearold mod­er­ate whose un­flashy and con­sen­sual style re­sem­bles Merkel’s own, sig­naled a pref­er­ence for con­ti­nu­ity over rad­i­cal change among mem­bers of the Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union.

Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer now be­comes the fa­vorite to take over as Ger­many’s next chan­cel­lor, though she may have to wait. Merkel has said she in­tends to stay in of­fice un­til 2021, and with her ally as party leader, that is at least pos­si­ble.

It would not have been pos­si­ble had the party picked Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer’s top ri­val, 63-year-old cor­po­rate chief­tain Friedrich Merz. Merz had rep­re­sented for many sup­port­ers a chance to re­turn the party to its con­ser­va­tive roots af­ter 18 years in which Merkel had steered the party to the cen­ter — and even the left.

Merkel de­railed Merz’s ca­reer early in her ten­ure by tak­ing over his party lead­er­ship post. Merz as party leader and Merkel as chan­cel­lor would have been an un­wieldy ar­range­ment un­likely to last.

Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer won Fri­day’s vote in the sec­ond round of bal­lot­ing, ek­ing out a bare ma­jor­ity in a closely di­vided party. The fi­nal tally was 517 votes for Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer and 482 for Merz af­ter a third can­di­date, Health Minister Jens Spahn, had been elim­i­nated.

A vis­i­bly moved Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer cel­e­brated with a speech ap­peal­ing to party unity, and vow­ing to “keep the cen­ter strong.”

In a con­cil­ia­tory con­ces­sion speech that re­flected the friendly tone of the cam­paign, Merz urged his sup­port­ers to “use all your strength to back AKK,” us­ing Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer’s ini­tials.

Merkel has been a gi­ant not only of Ger­man pol­i­tics but also of Euro­pean and world af­fairs. She has trans­formed the coun­try dur­ing her ten­ure and played a cen­tral role in re­solv­ing a string of in­ter­na­tional crises.

Now she has a chance at the sort of sat­is­fy­ing end to a po­lit­i­cal ca­reer that has eluded other ma­jor world lead­ers: an am­i­ca­ble trans­fer of power to a suc­ces­sor of her choice, one likely to safe­guard her legacy.

In Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, she gets a partner who shares both her outlook and her style. Last spring, Merkel tapped her to be gen­eral sec­re­tary — the No. 2 job in the party — in a move widely seen as an ef­fort to groom her for na­tional lead­er­ship. Be­fore that, Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer had been state premier in the tiny west Ger­man re­gion of Saar­land, where she was known for work­ing across party lines and earned wide­spread ap­proval.

She is an ob­ser­vant Catholic who is con­ser­va­tive on some so­cial is­sues, in­clud­ing op­po­si­tion to gay mar­riage. But she has also cham­pi­oned women’s rights, and con­tin­ued to pur­sue a high-oc­tane po­lit­i­cal ca­reer while raising three chil­dren.

The se­lec­tion of the Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union’s leader came in a vote of 1,001 del­e­gates at the party’s an­nual con­fer­ence, which was held in a cav­ernous con­ven­tion cen­ter in the north­ern port city of Ham­burg.

Party el­ders and of­fice­hold­ers voted by se­cret bal­lot, with each of the three main can­di­dates first given the chance to make their pitch.

In a fiery speech, Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer urged the party to be true to its val­ues, and not merely re­act to pro­pos­als of the far right.

“The ques­tion of what the fu­ture looks like, whether in the com­ing years we have even more pop­ulists, whether the EU holds to­gether or falls apart, whether we have an in­ter­na­tional world or­der with­out rules that’s gamed by ego­tists and au­to­crats … all of that is a threat,” she said. “But the an­swer doesn’t lie in our stars. It lies with us.”

At a time of grow­ing po­lit­i­cal frag­men­ta­tion in Europe, she called the party “the last uni­corn in Europe — the last large re­main­ing ‘peo­ple’s party.’”

Un­til re­cently, Merkel had been widely ex­pected to seek an­other term as party leader. But af­ter a se­ries of dis­ap­point­ing elec­tion re­sults, she stunned the Ger­man po­lit­i­cal world in Oc­to­ber by an­nounc­ing she would stand down.

The vote Fri­day was pre­ceded by an ex­tended good­bye to Merkel. Party mem­bers waved signs read­ing “Thanks, boss” and gave her a stand­ing ova­tion last­ing more than nine min­utes af­ter she gave her fi­nal speech as party leader.

“Peo­ple, we have a lot to get done to­day,” Merkel shouted to the crowd as she mo­tioned for del­e­gates to sit.

While Merkel never pub­licly en­dorsed a can­di­date, her pref­er­ence for Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer was widely known.

With her vic­tory Fri­day, Ger­many is likely — though not cer­tain — to have a sec­ond fe­male chan­cel­lor.

That prospect was a source of de­light for some in the hall who cel­e­brated the re­sult.

“I’m un­be­liev­ably happy,” said Katja Rathje-Hoffman, a del­e­gate who backed Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer. “She is a mod­ern woman and she is able to unite the [Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union].”



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