With eye on chancellery, Merkel protege wants new German era

BERLIN: Pitching to succeed Angela Merkel as Christian Democrat (CDU) leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer promised on Wednesday a new chapter for Germany in which “people feel at home here” after a period of political turmoil marked by the rise of the far-right.
Should she secure the CDU leadership, Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, would be in pole position to succeed Merkel as chancellor.
But polls show Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is the conservative party’s Secretary-General, lags businessman Friedrich Merz, 62, in the race. Merkel said last week she would vacate the CDU leadership at a party congress in December, heralding the end of a 13-year era in which she has dominated European politics.
As heir to Merkel’s centrist cause, Kramp-Karrenbauer could probably cohabit as party leader with Merkel as chancellor, which she wants to remain until the end of the parliamentary term in 2021.
For Kramp-Karrenbauer, the challenge is to define her own profile distinct from Merkel’s, while remaining loyal to the chancellor.
“This is the end of the era,” Kramp-Karrenbauer, who German media have nicknamed “AKK” after her initials, told reporters in Berlin. “We have to thank Angela Merkel for a great deal.”
“My experience is… that one always stands on the shoulders of one’s predecessor,” she added, stressing the need for political stability in uncertain times.
“We need to work out a way for people here to feel at home — people who have lived here a long time and people who have arrived more recently,” she added, with reference to the upheaval caused by Germany’s migrant crisis in 2015.
She laid out the challenges of delivering prosperity and social cohesion but did not spell out any specific policy prescriptions.
It could prove harder for Merkel to remain chancellor with Merz as CDU leader, as he lost out to her in a power struggle in 2002 and has since pursued a successful business career.
Kramp-Karrenbauer’s advantage over the other two candidates, Merz and Health Minister Jens Spahn, is that she has won an election — albeit in the small western state of Saarland — and served as state premier there.
She is on the CDU’s left on economic policy, being a strong advocate of the minimum wage. Before the 2013 national election, she suggested the top rate of tax be raised to 53 per cent.
But she is conservative on social issues. — Reuters