With eyes on future Chancellorship, CDU elects Kramp-Karrenbauer as new chair

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (L) and Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) converse at their seats during the 31st Party Congress of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Hamburg, Germany, 08 December 2018. [EPA-EFE/DAVID HECKER]

Germany’s ruling CDU chose Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as its new chairperson to replace Angela Merkel on Friday (7 December), in a move that raised some doubts about which path the country’s biggest party aims to take to stave off challenges from the left and the right. EURACTIV Germany reports.

When Daniel Günther, minister-president of Schleswig-Holstein, announced the result of the delegation vote in Hamburg, he was interrupted by shouts of enthusiasm as Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer secured the necessary 500 votes majority in the second ballot. Teary-eyed, she went on stage to embrace Merkel and her two opponents.

By the time of the vote, the outcome had been completely open, the result in the runoff ballot was close: 51.7% for Kramp-Karrenbauer and 48.2% for Freidrich Merz.

The third contender, Jens Spahn, received 15.7% – even more than expected. He has entered the big stage with his candidature and has officially expressed his interest in aiming for the German Chancellorship.

Referred to by some as “mini-Merkel”, Kramp-Karrenbauer acts largely along the same political lines as the Chancellor herself.

Nevertheless, in some ways, she is more conservative than Merkel, advocates, for example, the deportation of refugees to Syria and supports a ban on abortions.

The opposition, and mainly leftist leader Sarah Wagenknecht, criticised that “Merkel 2.0 is not a solution”, as she tweeted after the party convention.

Merz and Spahn, according to the forecasts, had struck a much more conservative tone than AKK. But Kramp-Karrenbauer does not like to think in these terms: “For me, there are no conservative and liberal, no economic or employee-friendly CDU, none of the East or the West. There is only one CDU, that’s our family,” she said on the stage.

“Courage” was the thread of her speech; courage to act, even for a united EU. It takes courage to complete the Schengen area, to make the euro crisis-proof and to build a common security policy and an army.

“If we have the courage to write this into our election programme, we will win the European elections together with Manfred Weber”. For the past 18 years, she has learned what it means to lead, she said – it’s about inner strength, not volume.

The election of Kramp-Karrenbauer to the helm of the party is a signal that the future of the popular parties is not over yet, Elmar Brok, CDU MEP, told EURACTIV after the results have been announced.

“I look with pleasure on the fact, that Mrs Kramp-Karrenbauer will lead the party. She will have to appeal to voters on the left and right, both are essential because we’ve lost even more voters to the Greens than to the AfD. We will not let ourselves be reduced to the fight against right-wing populists”.

Karrenbauer is a good choice for Europe, Brok added. She is, like Merkel, a passionate supporter of the EU. “This is an important European political message to the other member states that they in the future can continue to rely on Germany.”

Joseph Daul, the president of EPP, CDU’s political family in Europe, also welcomed her election.

Asked by EURACTIV, Saxony’s Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer said that above all, Kramp-Karrenbauer’s task will be to give the CDU a new impetus: “The CDU does not have to change radically. The party has to go back to central points and create a new dynamic – and Mrs Kramp-Karrenbauer knows that too. ”

The revival of the CDU as a true people’s party, which again reaches over 40% in polls and in which heterogeneous groups of voters can be found again: this is the goal that Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has committed herself to.

If she does well, she has chances to become German Chancellor, delegates say. As supporters, she would like to get Jens Spahn on board, who – unlike Friedrich Merz – has been elected to the party board. They know each other well, Spahn said, during the regional conferences they toured “like a rock band” across the country. But can the CDU do rock’n’roll?

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