Angela Merkel has been a pillar of stability for Germany and the Western world for two decades, but the party that kept her in charge of Europe’s largest economy suffers from the power vacuum it left behind.
A failed succession plan two years ago put the Christian Democratic Union in trouble. Rather than a smooth transition of power, the traditional anchor of German politics faces a mess free for all to defend its hold on the chancellery.
The two-day conference that begins on Friday to elect a new leader could go in two directions: to begin the process of renewal or to enter a period of stagnation and decline. While the party leader is usually a candidate for the chancellor of the conservative German bloc, this move is not automatic this time.
Even the CDU is unclear to what extent Merkel’s policy will cautiously deepen EU integration. One of the leading candidates calls for a much narrower focus on national interests and tighter controls on where German money is spent.
Alexander Dobrendt, leader of the electoral rally of the sister party of the Bavarian Christian Social Union and a frequent critic of the past, said: “Merkel no longer pulls strings together in Europe and is the binding element that she often did in the past.
The European Union needs Germany to rebuild the economies shattered by the epidemic and redefine the transatlantic relationship four years after Donald Trump’s “America first”. US President-elect Joe Biden holds Merkel in the utmost respect, so choosing the CDU will have implications that extend beyond the borders of the country.
The Republicans in the United States have lost control of Congress, the British Conservatives are dealing with the complications that come with Brexit, while their counterparts in Italy, Spain and France have emerged from power. Conservative parties in Western democracies are struggling.
Dobrendt said Germany’s role in Central Europe is “what the CDU and the Christian Christian Union want to preserve.”
The bloc is still in good shape, thanks in large part to Merkel’s constant oversight of the Coronavirus and how it has transferred the party to the political center. Delegates note its popularity and are careful to avoid major disruptions, according to people familiar with the discussions.
But they are torn because not all candidates are currently popular with German voters ahead of the 2021 national elections. Their choices are between Merkel’s longtime opponent Frederick Merz, moderate country leader Armin Laschet, and Norbert Roettgen, a foreign policy expert and former cabinet member.
Adding to the complication are two potential rivals for the chancellor – Bavarian Prime Minister Marcus Soder of the Christian Social Union and Gens Spahn, the incoming health minister from the CDU. Both may be better off among the electorate.
Election became a major concern for delegates. Merz has made it clear that he would run for chancellor if he wins, but he is a divisive figure who could boost the chances of an alliance between the Greens, the Social Democrats and the Left Party. The election accounts have caused some delegates to distance themselves from the 65-year-old former BlackRock manager, who is proposing a deeper break from his rivals.
“Whether or not the CDU wants it, it has to emerge from the shadow of Angela Merkel,” Mears said in a column in Spiegel. “Her achievements will be in the history books as of September,” he added.
Laschet, 59, and Roettgen, 55, are seen as more willing to nominate a replacement for the position of chancellor. Lachit has an advantage between the two, but Roettgen is gaining ground. The two could cancel each other in the first round, with Mears leading early ahead of the deciding tally.
If either Laschet or Roettgen wins, the door will open to Soeder as a rare CSU block choice. It only happened twice and both were losers – the last time was in 2002, when Merkel’s chances were slim.
After a brief flirtation with the running for the chancellor, Span said Sunday that he was out of the race and bolstered his support for Chet.
The new CDU president will face four tough state elections in the coming months and may weaken before the national campaign truly begins. Meanwhile, Merkel – who has outdone four French presidents and five British prime ministers – will still run Germany.
Merkel’s threat to overshadow the CDU leader was evident after her hand-picked successor, Angret Kramp-Karenbauer, faltered after her narrow victory over Merz in December 2018. After a series of missteps, she resigned in February, reviving the battle for succession.
Aside from its internal struggles, the Christian Democratic Union faces a difficult political environment. The Greens were on par with the conservative bloc before the coronavirus crisis, and the far-right Alternative for Germany garnered support.
But the German leader remains extremely popular, and the conservative bloc is concerned that its voters may not survive.
“We will miss the chancellor a lot,” said Soeder.
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