German party picks Merkel ally to lead
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].”