Merkel’s party to choose new leader ahead of German election

BERLIN (AP) – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party picks a new leader this weekend, a move that will help shape German voters’ choice of his successor as the head of the country’s largest economy European Union after 16 years in office.

Merkel, now 66, has led Germany and Europe through a series of crises since taking office in 2005. But she said more than two years ago that she would not run for office. a fifth term as chancellor.

Now her Christian Democratic Union party is looking for her second new leader since leaving that role in 2018. This person will run for chancellor in Germany’s September 26 elections or have a big say in who stands will present.

Current leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced her resignation last February after failing to impose her authority on the party. A decision on his successor has been repeatedly delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. Eventually, the CDU decided to hold an online convention this weekend.

Delegates from Germany’s strongest party can choose between three main candidates on Saturday who differ markedly, at least in style. There is no clear favorite.

Friedrich Merz, 65, would mark a break with the Merkel era. The party dominated central arena, ending military conscription, allowing, if not embracing same-sex marriage, and allowing large numbers of migrants, among others.

He has a more traditionally conservative and pro-business image, and recently wrote in Der Spiegel magazine that “the CDU must, like it or not, come out of the shadow of Angela Merkel”.

Merz said he wanted to give the disillusioned conservatives a “political home”, but was not going “a millimeter” towards the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

This is Merz’s second run for the party after narrowly losing last time to Kramp-Karrenbauer, considered Merkel’s preferred candidate. He led the center-right group in parliament from 2000 to 2002, when Merkel kicked him out of that post and left parliament in 2009 – later serving as a lawyer and leading the branch’s supervisory board German investment manager BlackRock.

Merz has sought to portray his decade outside of politics as a force, but he lacks government experience. Armin Laschet, the governor of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, offers this.

Laschet, 59, is a more liberal figure, elected governor in 2017 in a traditionally center-left stronghold, and seen as likely to continue Merkel’s centrist approach. In a debate between the candidates last week, he said: “What I bring is the experience of government, the leadership of a great state, balancing different interests and – it can’t be. be no harm to a leader of the CDU – having won an election.

The third candidate, Norbert Roettgen, lost the 2012 national elections in North Rhine-Westphalia. Merkel then fired him as German environment minister. Roettgen, 55, says he learned from the experience. He has proclaimed himself a candidate for the “modern center” which focuses on issues such as tackling climate change.

Roettgen, now chairman of the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, has long been seen as an outsider, but polls have shown him gaining ground among CDU supporters. He suggested last week that he would be an acceptable alternative to supporters of Merz and Laschet.

“I am not in one camp,” he said. “I am for everyone, and I think those who will not vote for me will be able to live with me and accept me if I am elected.

Laschet is the only candidate who has had to make big decisions in the coronavirus pandemic. It’s both a strength and a weakness: It raised his profile, but he garnered mixed reviews, especially as an advocate for loosening restrictions after the first phase of the pandemic.

The CDU as a whole has profited from the coronavirus crisis, taking a solid poll lead in an unusually uncertain election year thanks to good reviews of Merkel’s leadership on the pandemic. It is not certain that any of these candidates can carry these notes to the elections. Saturday’s decision will not be the last word on the center-right candidate for chancellor.

This is partly because the CDU is part of the Union bloc, which also includes its sister party, the exclusively Bavarian Christian Social Union. The two sides will jointly decide who stands for Merkel’s post, although no timetable has been set.

CSU chief Markus Soeder is himself seen as a potential candidate. The Bavarian governor rose to stature during the pandemic as a staunch advocate of tight restrictions to curb the coronavirus, and his votes surpass those of CDU candidates.

And some consider Health Minister Jens Spahn, who is running to become CDU deputy head under Laschet, a possible candidate.

Whoever runs will face Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the struggling center-left Social Democrat candidate, currently a junior partner of Merkel’s coalition as well as a candidate from the Greens, who plan to run for the first time. times at the Chancellery.

The head of the CDU will be chosen by 1,001 delegates. If no candidate wins a majority, there will be a second round. According to German law, the online result must be confirmed by a postal vote, the results of which are expected on January 22.

The plan is that only Saturday’s winning candidate will be on that ballot.

Unity “is the top priority for everyone,” outgoing leader Kramp-Karrenbauer told the dpa news agency. “And that’s also my big request at the party. ”

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