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Germany's Leading Party To Find Merkel's Successor

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right party is choosing a new leader this weekend, a decision that will help determine who succeeds her at the helm of the European Union's biggest economy after a 16-year reign.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right party is choosing a new leader this weekend, a decision that will help determine who succeeds her at the helm of the European Union's biggest economy after a 16-year reign.

Merkel, now 66, has steered Germany, and Europe, through a series of crises since she took office in 2005. But she said over two years ago that she won't seek a fifth term as chancellor.

Now her Christian Democratic Union party is seeking its second new leader since she quit that role in 2018. That person will either run for chancellor in Germany's September 26 election or have a big say in who runs.

Current leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced her resignation last February after failing to impose her authority on the party.

A decision on her successor was delayed repeatedly by the coronavirus pandemic. Eventually, the CDU decided to hold an online convention this weekend.

Delegates from Germany's strongest party can choose Saturday between three main candidates who differ markedly at least in style.

Friedrich Merz, 65, would at least symbolically mark a break from the Merkel era. The party has dominated the center ground, ending military conscription, enabling if not embracing same-sex marriage, and allowing in large numbers of migrants, among other things.

He has a more traditionally conservative and pro-business image, and said in a recent article for Der Spiegel magazine that "the CDU must, whether it wants to or not, step out from the shadow of Angela Merkel."

Merz has said he wants to give a "political home" to disillusioned conservatives but won't move "one millimeter" toward the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

This is Merz's second bid for the party leadership after he lost narrowly last time to Kramp-Karrenbauer, considered Merkel's preferred candidate.

He led the center-right group in parliament from 2000 to 2002, when Merkel pushed him out of that job, and left parliament in 2009, later practicing as a lawyer and heading the supervisory board of investment manager BlackRock's German branch.

Merz has sought to portray his decade out of politics as a strength but lacks government experience.

Armin Laschet, the governor of Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, offers that.

Laschet, 59, is a more liberal figure elected as governor in 2017 in a region that was traditionally a stronghold of the center-left Social Democrats.

In a debate among the candidates last week, he said: "What I bring is government experience, the leadership of a big state, balancing different interests and — this perhaps doesn't hurt for a CDU leader — having won an election."

The third contender, Norbert Roettgen, lost the 2012 state election in North Rhine-Westphalia and was subsequently fired by Merkel as Germany's environment minister.

Roettgen, 55, says he has learned from that experience. He has set out a stall as a candidate of the "modern center" who emphasizes issues such as fighting climate change.

Roettgen, now the chairman of parliament's foreign affairs committee, was long considered the outsider but surveys have showed him gaining ground among CDU supporters.

He suggested last week that he would be a palatable alternative to backers of both Merz, who has a sizeable conservative support base, and Laschet.

"I am not in one camp," he said. "I stand for everyone, and I think those who don't vote for me will be able to live with me and will accept me if I am elected."

Laschet is the only candidate who had to make big decisions in the coronavirus pandemic. That's both a strength and a weakness: it has raised his profile, but he has garnered mixed reviews, notably as a vocal advocate of loosening restrictions after the pandemic's first phase.

The CDU as a whole has benefited from the crisis, taking a strong poll lead into an unusually uncertain election year thanks to good reviews for Merkel's pandemic leadership.

Whether any of these candidates could take those ratings through to the election is uncertain. Saturday's decision won't be the final word on the center-right candidate for chancellor.

That's partly because the CDU is part of the Union bloc, which also includes its sister party, the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union. The two parties will decide together who runs for Merkel's job, though no timetable has been set.

The CDU leader will be chosen by 1,001 delegates. If no candidate wins a majority, there will be a runoff. Under German law the online result has to be confirmed by a postal ballot, whose results are expected Jan. 22.

The plan is that only Saturday's winning candidate will be on that ballot.

(Disclaimer: This story has not been edited by www.republicworld.com and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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