German conservative big guns rally behind Merkel

BERLIN: A powerful caucus of German conservatives wants Angela Merkel to stay on until her term ends in October 2021, dismissing calls for her to step down sooner and hand power to the next leader of her Christian Democrat (CDU) party.
The succession debate was blown wide open last week, when CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said unexpectedly she would no longer seek to succeed her mentor Merkel, a step that raised questions over the future course of Europe’s largest economy.
Explaining her decision, Kramp-Karrenbauer said separating the roles of party leader and chancellor “weakens the CDU”. That remark fuelled speculation that Merkel would have to hand over the chancellor’s job to the next party leader.
Much depends on who wins the CDU leadership race, a contest that is just starting and which will likely take months.
But conservative heavyweights are already resisting popular pressure —and some suggestions from within the CDU — for Merkel to go before her term ends 18 months from now.
“Merkel is still very successful and popular in Germany and internationally,” said Juergen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman for the conservatives’ parliamentary group. “So there is no reason to change anything.”
Hardt sits on the parliamentary foreign affairs committee chaired by Norbert Roettgen, who entered the CDU leadership race on Tuesday and said the question of who should run as chancellor could be decided later, around the end of the year.
Andreas Nick, another CDU lawmaker on the same committee, said Merkel’s strong standing abroad would be important during Germany’s EU presidency in the second half of this year. Talk of her going early was “a purely academic discussion”, Nick added.