Angela Merkel successor's offer to quit leaves question of new leader in the balance

CDU leader gives rousing conference speech after what she admitted had been a 'difficult year' for the party

Jon Stone
Friday 22 November 2019 16:30
Angela Merkel talks to party chairwoman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer during the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party congress in Leipzig
Angela Merkel talks to party chairwoman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer during the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party congress in Leipzig

The question of who will succeed Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor was left hanging in the balance after her anointed successor signalled that she could step down.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has been leader of Germany's largest party, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), since Ms Merkel quit as its leader in 2018 to focus on her continuing role as the country's chancellor.

Speaking on Friday at the CDU annual conference in the eastern city of Leipzig, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer (or "AKK" as she is known to the German press) admitted her party had had a "difficult year", in reference to a sustained drop in opinion-poll support.

The CDU leader, a close ally of Ms Merkel, would likely become chancellor if she leads her party into the next election – but on Friday she offered to quit.

"If you are of the opinion that the Germany I want is not the one you want ... then we should end it. Here, now and today," she told the party conference in a rousing speech.

"But if you're of the opinion that we should go down this path together, then let's roll up our sleeves and get started," she said, receiving a standing ovation from delegates.

Taking an indirect dig at potential rivals for the CDU leadership, such as staunch economic liberal Friedrich Merz, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer said that attacking the legacy of her party's own government was "not a good campaigning strategy".

Mr Merz did not reciprocate the implicit criticism, instead using his speech to praise the leader for being "brave, fighting and forward-looking".

Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer also threw some red meat to conservatives in her own party, however, by floating the reintroduction of mandatory national service.

Ms Merkel has said emphatically that she will not run for re-election when her term as chancellor ends in 2021, but despite the anointing of Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer as a successor, the party's centrist and right-wing factions are still fighting for control over its future direction.

Ms Merkel took more of a back seat at the two-day conference, giving an opening speech defending the work of her government but abdicating responsibility for the future direction of the CDU.

In national opinion polls, the CDU is facing a challenge from the Greens, who seem to have displaced the Social Democratic Party as the main opposition in recent months.

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