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Germany: CDU’s “beneficial” Congress. Merkel – Kramp-Karrenbauer continuity

Change at the helm of Germany’s Christian-Democratic Union. The Party's assembly engaged in a broad, in-depth internal debate. The new leader is a prominent representative of the Christian Democrats. Now the Chancellor can devote greater attention to the national government and to Europe

After 18 years as President of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Angela Merkel handed over her party leadership to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. The day after the Hessian State election, held five weeks ago, when CDU suffered another setback, the German Chancellor announced that at the Party Congress held in Hamburg last weekend (December 7-8) she would step down as party chief. Her successor gained more votes than her two competitors. In the past weeks the three candidates presented their views in a very fair competition in eight CDU Regional Conferences, followed by some 15 thousand registered party members, answering questions from participants. These Conferences garnered great public attention and received high praise for promoting an innovative democratic process in the choice of political party leadership. The campaign had a reinvigorating effect on the same CDU, which in the months following the formation of the government coalition with the Social Democrats past Spring had been marked by divisions and apathy. It became clear that CDU could have a future also after Angela Merkel. During the campaign the three candidates for party leadership displayed great competence, strong personality, and all three proved to be suitable candidates for the highest position in the party and in the State.
Past spring, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, now at the helm of the party, a former Minister with ten-year experience in several State departments and former chief Minister in Saarland, was appointed by Ms Merkel as the party’s general secretary; Friedrich Merz, 63, a successful lawyer, at the end of the 1990s served as president of the parliamentary group CDU-CSU at the Bundestag. He quit politics 10 years ago to focus on his profession; Jens Spahn, 38, has been serving as Health Minister in Merkel’s government since past spring.
The choice between the three candidates was not a choice between left or right-winged positions, between conservatives, liberals and progressives, as was often reported by the press and in some interested circles. Naturally, each of the three candidates have a distinct profile and personal preferences of their own, as well as their own style. Merz and Spahn appear to be more conservative or liberal, Kramp-Karrenbauer has greater Christian-Social orientations. But all three share the party’s programmatic vision. CDU is a broad-based popular party that has room for many, inasmuch as they identify with the established Christian-Democratic platform of values. This is especially true in the area of European politics and international relations. On several occasions in their speeches the three candidates mentioned CDU’s historical role as a European party.
Angela Merkel continues serving as Federal Chancellor, an office she has held for the past 13 years. She was elected by the German Bundestag to serve her full term in office until the end of the legislative period, that ends in the fall of 2021. Now she will need to work in close contact with the new party leader. Nobody doubts that this will be possible, for the two women already had good relations when they worked for the Party. The decision in favour of Kramp-Karrenbauer is a guarantee of continuity.
Furthermore, Angela Merkel announced that she will retire from active politics at the end of her mandate as Chancellor. Thus Kramp-Karrenbauer  could become the next German Chancellor. In fact, in case of electoral victory, CDU presidency is always linked to the candidacy to Chancellorship.
It is possible that in this last stage of her term in office, no longer burdened by the responsibilities linked to party leadership, Angela Merkel might decide to overcome her usual caution and hesitation in view of much-needed initiatives to advance European unification. Strengthened by self-confidence with the renewal process undertaken and with the ambitious leadership of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the Party could encourage the Chancellor in this respect.

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