Hamburg, Germany : Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was elected new chairperson of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at the party’s 31st national congress on Friday, succeeding Chancellor Angela Merkel who has led the party for 18 years.
The 56-year-old CDU secretary general, often referred to as “AKK”, received 517 votes while candidate Friedrich Merz won 482 in the second round of the election. German Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn who is also a candidate for the CDU leadership, had been disqualified in the first round of the election.
It is the first time that the CDU has a new leader in 18 years since Merkel took the post in 2000. Merkel announced at the end of October that she would not seek re-election of the party leader but would remain German Chancellor till 2021.
The leader of the CDU, the biggest party in Germany, usually becomes the candidate for the chancellorship and is likely to succeed Merkel’s post as chancellor.
“I accept the election,” said Kramp-Karrenbauer after the announcement of the election result. She also thanked the delegates and in particular Jens Spahn and Friedrich Merz for “this fair competition”.
“This upswing needs to continue,” she said, adding that the goal is to obtain from the Union with all its wings and all the common members, in a bid to form a large people’s party sitting in the middle.
Kramp-Karrenbauer also invited her competitor Spahn and Merz to work together in realizing the party’s vision.
After her win, Kramp-Karrenbauer immediately extended an olive branch to Merz and her other key opponent, German health minister Jens Spahn.
“There’s a place for both in this party,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said, adding the renewed confidence their party elections raised in Germans “must continue and must be connected with the goal that unites us all, to preserve and shape our great people’s party.”
Some German observers predict that even if her CDU party unites behind her over the next few years, Kramp-Karrenbauer has a long road ahead to persuade German voters and the greater European Union that she can be as stabilizing and powerful a chancellor as Merkel.
Seen as a “Mini-Merkel,” Kramp-Karrenbauer might inherit most of Merkel’s policies keeping CDU as a centrist and inclusive party as she said previously in the regional party gathering that “no one can be cut off from the past,” echoing Merkel’s remarks that the party should return to “past traditions and attitudes.”
She openly support Merkel’s controversial migration policies that partly led to the influx of more than a million migrants into Germany in 2015, while she called for tougher actions against asylums who deceive authorities about their identities.
Some local analysts dubbed Kramp-Karrenbauer’s doctrine as “modern conservatism”, as she is “economically left” in advocating the minimum wage and raising the top rate of tax, while “socially conservative” in holding negative views on abortions and same-sex marriages.
Friday’s election of Kramp-Karrenbauer was largely seen as the beginning of the end of Merkel’s era, a time that many tricky problems still lie ahead.
Kramp-Karrenbauer, although seen as a Merkel loyalist, might first learn to coordinate party strategies with government policies, and the way to cope with the other two governing parties, the Christian Social Union(CSU) and Social Democratic Party(SPD).
The German government has already been shaky for several months since the fierce struggle within the governing coalition.
The governing parties all suffered severe setbacks in two state elections this year, and SPD has been considering to quit the coalition government, as many claimed the cooperation with CDU has pushed the party to the center, losing its socialist identity.
Andrea Nahles, the SPD leader, sent her congratulations after Kramp-Karrenbauer’s victory while reminding that “now it is time to solve problems.”
“The times today are challenging for our country, for our party, with the AfD on the right and a polarization of society,” Merkel warned in her speech.
Merkel also had a message for President Donald Trump, stating that her party had to show its strengths in an age of “growing renunciation of multilateralism” and in times of “reducing international cooperation to the principles of deal-making.”
Judith Hoerning, a 23-year-old delegate, said that while Merkel had “shaped the party in a good way” she believed her decision to step down was “courageous and right because the party needs transformation now.”
Jens Eckhoff, a 52-year-old delegate from Bremen, said he was happy AKK was elected because he believed she could “help gain voters in the center and can also win against the populists with good arguments.”
Germany’s neighbors are already concerned that the departure of Europe’s longest serving leader could weaken the European Union.
“There is still huge respect for Merkel because she gave stability in Europe at a time when things were rocky,” said Judy Dempsey, a nonresident senior fellow at the Carnegie Europe think tank.
Image : Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer waves after being elected as new chairperson of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at the party’s national congress in Hamburg, Germany, Dec. 7, 2018, succeeding chancellor Angela Merkel who led the party for 18 years.