In late October, the day after the Christian Democratic Union in the state of Hesse suffered double-digit losses, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a meeting of the CDU executive council that she would not stand again as candidate to head the CDU at the coming party convention in Hamburg in early December of this year. She later went before the national press and explained that she will step down as party leader--a position she has held for eighteen years--as a first step toward a leadership transition.
Merkel intends to stay on as chancellor until 2021 when her term runs out. "Her decision to give up the party leadership will set in train a battle for the succession and a potential bitter struggle for the soul of the CDU, one of Europe's most successful political parties," comments the Financial Times. "Many in the party begrudge how Ms. Merkel brought the CDU to the political center--and want it to return to its conservative roots."
Merkel conceded that her decision would run counter to her longstanding conviction that both the leadership of the party and the chancellorship should be held together. But considering the present situation, she wanted to give the party enough room to prepare for the time when her term ends. After serving out her fourth term as chancellor, she will not stand for another seat in the Bundestag, nor aspire to any other political position.
In her press conference, Merkel avoided commenting on those prominent candidates who already have announced their candidacy for the CDU leadership. She made the point that she will work together with whoever is democratically elected at the convention. Said Merkel, "I am a person who can work very, very well with quite a lot of people, and I am known for that."
WILL MERKEL'S OLD RIVAL STAGE A COMEBACK?
It was noted that Merkel did not elevate the candidacy of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (56), her favored successor. Kramp-Karrenbauer served as prime minister of the small state of Saarland for seven years, and is highly regarded by many CDU members for considering conservative as well as liberal positions on the issues at hand. Merkel brought her to Berlin as CDU secretary-general last year. In that position, Kramp-Karrenbauer was spokeswoman and chief administrator of the party apparatus. There was speculation that Merkel wanted to hand the party's leadership over to her in 2020 to prepare her as successor.
"AKK" or "Mini-Merkel," as Kramp-Karrenbauer is dubbed by the press, will have to compete with several candidates at the coming Hamburg party convention. There is Jens Spahn (38), whom some characterize as the "anti Merkel." He had the courage to challenge Merkel on many issues, including the chancellor's welcome policy for undocumented refugees. As a member of the Bundestag with a direct seat since 2002, he has made his name as CDU's health expert. When the recent "Groko" cabinet was put together, Merkel was under pressure within the party to give him the health ministry. Spahn had already broadened his experience in the finance ministry under Wolfgang Schauble. He is openly gay and has the backing of the business wing and the conservatives, although in his health reforms he has shown a softer side.
When the tabloid Bild reported that Merkel's old rival and challenger Friedrich Merz (63) was also considering entering the race for CDU party leader, the TV station NTV called it "The Comeback of the Year." For Eurointelligence, "The candidate to watch out for in the CDU leadership race is Friedrich Merz, the wild card of German politics. Early polls suggest that he has the biggest support among the population, and he is also the candidate of business; his election would accelerate the end of Angela Merkel and the grand coalition."
Merkel saw Merz, a former judge known for giving brilliant speeches in the Bundestag as parliamentary party leader and preaching the social conservative and liberal business credo, as her most dangerous party rival. In an effort to consolidate her authority in the party on the way to a future chancellorship, in 2002 she took the powerful post of leader of the CDU parliamentary group herself, leaving Merz in second place.
A frustrated Merz, who had served in the European Parliament before he rose to the position of leading economic and finance CDU heavyweight, gave up his seat as member of the Bundestag in 2009. He joined the U.S. law firm Mayer Brown's Dusseldorf office. As a business lawyer with high-caliber political connections, he became a much-sought-after board supervisor and made a lot of money. As Germany's head of BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager. Merz is connected with many of the companies in Germany's DAX index in which BlackRock is invested. For years, he has headed the Atlantik-Briicke, Berlin's prestigious think tank. There Merz plays an important role on both sides of the Atlantic during these troubled times for...