Friday

22nd Mar 2019

Merkel loyalist AKK wins CDU leadership battle

  • Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will lead Germany's largest party into the next election (Photo: CDU/Saxon-Anhalt)

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was elected on Friday (7 December) by Germany's largest ruling party, the Christian Democrats (CDU) to lead the party and thus to likely be the next chancellor of Europe's economic and political powerhouse in a post-Merkel era.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, known as AKK, won in a tight race with 517 votes, against 482 votes for Friedrich Merz, a corporate lawyer, whose election would have meant a sharp right turn for the CDU.

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The 56-year old AKK, on the other hand, is viewed as similar to chancellor Angela Merkel, with an even temper and centrist policies. Merz had represented those in the party who wanted to reject many of the chancellor policies, especially on migration.

The vote means one of the first challenges AKK will have to deal with is party unity, as many in the party feel a clear break with Merkel and a right turn would help the centre-right party regain some of the votes gradually lost under Merkel's long leadership.

The party is currently drawing around 30 percent at the polls, far below the roughly 40 percent it had during Merkel's heyday.

Nationally, Germany's Greens stand in second place, with 20 percent, and the Social Democrats and the far-right Alternative for Germany (born out of frustration with Merkel's migration policies), are neck-and-neck at 14 percent, according to a recent ARD poll.

AKK will hold the party leadership, while Merkel will retain the chancellory until the end of her term in 2021.

Merkel decided 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 outmanoeuvred her critics by leaving the party's leadership, but retaining the chancellery to remain in charge of her legacy and succession.

The run-up to Friday's vote exposed a split within the CDU between the pro- and anti-Merkel camps.

Legacy

Merkel at the emotional farewell on Friday aimed to defend her moderate course during the 18 years as party leader. The 64-year old Merkel told CDU delegates in Hamburg she gave thanks the chance to serve.

"It has been a great pleasure for me, it has been an honour," Merkel said, as she received a standing ovation lasting nearly 10 minutes, and she was herself trying hard to hold back tears.

Merkel talked about the challenges CDU will have to manage in Germany and in Europe: from climate change, though rising nationalism, to a global move away from multilateralism.

"In times like these, we will defend our liberal views, our way of life, both at home and abroad," Merkel told deputies according to Reuters.

"Whether it's the rejection of multilateralism, the return to nationalism, the reduction of international cooperation to deal-making or threatened trade wars... hybrid warfare, destablisation of societies with fake news or the future of our EU - we Christian Democrats must show in the face of all these challenges what we've got," she warned delegates.

"The CDU in 2018 must not look back but look forward, with new people ... but with the same values," she added.

"I hope we emerge from this party conference well-equipped, motivated and united," Merkel said. "I am confident we will succeed."

The CDU had won four national elections under her, and Merkel said it was due to holding true to its principles.

The German chancellor, who has been a key crisis manager during both the euro crisis and the migration crisis, is a divisive figure both at home and around Europe, especially with her 2015 decision not to close Germany's borders to asylum seekers, or Germany's perceived reluctance to bail out Greece.

"In difficult times we shouldn't forget our Christian and democratic stance," she said.

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