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Germany: race to succeed Merkel has started

German chancellor Angela Merkel during a press conference in Berlin, 29 November 2018
German chancellor Angela Merkel during a press conference in Berlin, 29 November 2018 REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Angela Merkel is to give up her seat as Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader but is likely to remain chancellor until the next federal election in 2021. A vote will take place during a CDU Congress on the 7-8 December, and in the run-up, potential candidates are jockeying for position.


Three people are in the final race, all are conservative, but in different ways. Wolfgang Renzsch, political scientist at Magdeburg University explains how.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer Wikimedia commons

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, currently Secretary General of the Christian Democratic Union, doubling as Prime Minster for Saarland. A Merkel favourite, ahead in the opinion polls. Considered as socially progressive, she belongs more to the CDU's ‘labour’ wing. Sides with conservative Catholics, however, in opposing same-sex marriage. Were this allowed Renzsch quotes her as saying 'there won't be any limits anymore,' and that 'brothers and sisters could also marry'. It represents the deep fear of some conservatives that “all the morals go down," he adds.

Jens Spahn
Jens Spahn Wikimedia Commons

Jens Spahn, the Federal Minister for Health. Seen as a spokesperson for the conservative wing of the party during its most recent party congresses. As a homosexual, he wouldn’t fit into the conservative mould, but this is the only exception in his otherwise very conservative credentials. He was a fierce critic of regulations regarding dual citizenship for people who have migrated to Germany and fights to get it abolished. But he also built a platform of lower taxes and less red tape with support for same-sex marriage.

Friedrich Merz
Friedrich Merz Wikimedia Commons

Friedrich Merz, former head of the CDU’s parliamentary section in the Bundestag. Worked as judge and corporate lawyer and was on the board of companies like Cologne Bonn Airport, HSBC Trinkaus, Axa Konzern AG, Borossia Dortmund, and others, which made him a multi-millionaire.

Under her reign, the German society drifted apart.

He's the preferred choice of economists. Earned considerable wealth through business and finance.He sees himself as socially conservative and economically liberal, and is viewed as a representative of the conservative and pro-business wings of the CDU.

Merkel made front-runner Kramp-Karrenbauer the CDU’s Secretary General, grooming her as successor for the position as Chairperson.

“There are some parallels in the careers of the two women,” says Renzsch. “Before Merkel became the party’s chairperson, she was also its Secretary General.”

Merkel's support for Kramp-Karrenbauer is also in line with her efforts to promote women’s rights. "During a conference commemorating a century of voting rights for women, she put herself forward as a champion of women’s rights."

What will be Merkel’s legacy?

“She has shown that she is very able when it comes to foreign policy," but domestically her record is more patchy.

“Under her reign, the German society drifted apart. German society today is one of the most divided; the income gap between rich and poor has been widening while minimum wages didn’t go up for twenty years. There is stagnation,” says Renzsch.

"She is to a certain degree very naive when it comes to economic interests. She hosted a big dinner for the 60th anniversary of a former Chairman of the Deutsche Bank. This bank has been accused of involvement in criminal financial dealings, people have not forgotten that.”

Merkel also came under fire when she opened the borders for migrants trying to escape the violence in Syria and other war-torn countries. This helped the far-right Alternatieve für Deutschland gain 92 seats in the Bundestag, to become the third largest political party in Germany after the CDU and the Social Democratic Party.

“She has paid too little attention to the cohesion of the society,” says Renzsch.

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