CDU to choose new party leader

Lamar Ellis
December 9, 2018

Angela Merkel loyalist Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has been elected as the new leader of the German chancellor's party.

Mrs Kramp-Karrenbauer, previously the CDU's general-secretary, faces the hard task of uniting the divided party after a series of bad election results. However, Carsten Brzeski, Chief Economist at ING Germany is less optimistic about the outcome, and doesn't see any clear way forward for the CDU in the wake of Kramp-Karrenbauer's close victory over her more conservative rival Merz.

Securing the CDU top job represents a major step for Kramp-Karrenbauer toward becoming chancellor once Merkel steps down in 2021.

She reminded the CDU of other electoral successes last year, avoiding mention of this year's setbacks in state elections, which were heavy blows for her.

Playing up her experience in regional government, she added to cheers and loud applause: "I learned what it is to lead - and above all learnt that leadership is more about being strong on the inside than being loud on the outside".

"We need a change in strategy on the issues, in our attitude to our political opponents and, above all, in the way we communicate with the people in our nation".

Merkel made a decision to leave the CDU leadership after opinion polls, and a pair of disappointing regional elections this autumn, showed that the party's popularity had hit new lows and calls for her resignation increased.

She won a tough re-election battle in her native Saarland state on the French border in 2017, briefly halting a series of poll debacles for the CDU as it was racked by infighting over the refugee influx.

The three candidates Favourite Annegret Kramp Karrenbauer, Friedrich Merz and Jens Spahn
The three candidates Favourite Annegret Kramp Karrenbauer, Friedrich Merz and Jens Spahn

Merkel has been CDU leader since 2000 and chancellor since 2005.

"We are in demanding times today, no doubt about that", she said. After the results were announced, a tearful Kramp-Karrenbauer hugged Merkel and gave her a peck on the cheek.

Outlining the multiple challenges facing Germany, from rapidly changing technology to climate change and a global shift away from multilateralism to defending national interests, she said: "In times like these, we will defend our liberal views, our way of life, both at home and overseas".

"There is still huge respect for Merkel because she gave stability in Europe at a time when things were rocky", said Judy Dempsey, a nonresident senior fellow at the Carnegie Europe think tank.

For years, Merkel's popularity lifted the CDU and its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union.

And Friedrich Merz, a former lawmaker who left politics to work as a corporate lawyer, presented himself as the candidate who could bring back voters from the far-right populist AfD. In the 2013 election, they won 41.5 percent of the vote and only just fell short of an outright parliamentary majority.

National broadsheet Sueddeutsche Zeitung said Schaeuble's move signalled that the CDU's long-festering divisions, thinly veiled by unity behind Merkel, could well break out in the open after the conference.

"Whether it's the rejection of multilateralism, the return to nationalism, the reduction of global cooperation to deal-making or threatened trade wars... hybrid warfare, destabilization of societies with fake news or the future of our European Union - we Christian Democrats must show in the face of all these challenges what we've got", she said. She was greeted by a several-minute standing ovation, with some delegates holding up 'Thank you, boss!' placards.

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