‘Anti-Merkel’ convinced he can take top spot as CDU leadership race heats up

The frontrunners to replace Angela Merkel when she steps down as CDU leader early next month have been having their say across the country. With just three more regional conferences, who will come out on top?

'Anti-Merkel' convinced he can take top spot as CDU leadership race heats up
Friedrich Merz speaks to CDU members in Böblingen on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

At the regional conference in Böblingen, Baden-Württemberg, on Tuesday evening the candidates for the Christian Democratic (CDU) leadership were on good form as they took turns to get their points across.

They've been on a gruelling tour of the country, reaching out to CDU members ahead of the vote that will take place at the party conference on December 7th in Hamburg.

But with only three regional events left, the race is on to see who has made the best impression.

'Anti-Merkel confident'

Friedrich Merz, who has been dubbed by commentators as the 'anti-Merkel' because he has a completely different political style and attitude to Angela Merkel, is optimistic about his chances of taking over the chancellor's reigns.

In interviews with Funke Media Group newspapers, he said he was convinced he would win the race for party leadership.

“I have not only the intention, but also the firm conviction that I will be elected CDU chairman,”  the 63-year-old said.

After his election, the first thing he would do would be “to have a detailed and confidential conversation with Angela Merkel”. And he will write to all those who have left the CDU in recent years – “and ask them to rejoin”.

Merz also reiterated his demand for the tax system to be simplified. He had previously said that people should technically be able to do their tax declaration on a beer mat.

“Clearly, the new beer mat is a tax app for the smartphone,” he said.

Having been sidelined by Merkel in 2009 and moving away from politics, Merz has amassed a fortune in the private sector and owns two private jets. He recently disclosed that his annual earnings amount to around €1million.

It's a far cry from Merkel's image as a cautious spender and it remains to be seen how his wealth will impact on his campaign to be leader.

SEE ALSO: Who are Merkel's possible successors as CDU party chief?

Merz also fuelled controversy at the CDU regional meeting a week ago in Thuringia when he questioned whether Germany should continue to have asylum written as a basic right in its constitution. 

It's a difficult topic in Germany because the asylum right was included in the constitution as a reaction to the Nazi dictatorship and the Holocaust.

Party 'failure'

Meanwhile, a poll last week placed Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, as the top choice to replace Merkel. Kramp-Karrenbauer, also known as AKK, is considered to be a Merkel loyalist.

But at Böblingen, Kramp-Karrenbauer didn't hold back on her words as she spoke of a “failure” of her party in view of the Union's loss of votes and the strengthening of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Candidates Friedrich Merz, Jens Spahn, the moderator and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer draw lots to decide the order in which they'll speak on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

AKK said ordinary citizens and party members had the feeling that the CDU/CSU had not taken enough notice of concerns and the “justified fears” of people.

“Then we should not be surprised if these exact people are looking for parties that at least give them the impression that they care about them,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said.

Spahn, who at 38 is the youngest of the frontrunner candidates, said that the CDU had lost a lot of confidence. It must again conduct broader and more controversial debates, he said.

The Health Minister said in an interview with the Rheinische Post newspaper that he would opt for special party conferences on the environment and Europe in the event of his election as CDU leader. He said “the CDU must discuss future issues more thoroughly”.

Spahn has previously ruffled feathers with his negative comments about the UN migration pact, as well as on tax issues.

Similar to his competitors, Merz, warned against the Union's social democratization: “We don't have to adopt all the positions the Social Democrats think are right,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Should people without children be forced to pay more tax in Germany?

Positive competition

The three candidates were presenting themselves in Böblingen at the fifth of a total of eight regional events.

On Wednesday they will travel to Düsseldorf – to the CDU state association of North Rhine-Westphalia with the largest number of members, and from which both Merz and Spahn come from.

This will be followed by two more conferences: Bremen on Thursday and Berlin on Friday.

SEE ALSO: How the race to replace Merkel is breathing life into the CDU

A day after her party suffered severe losses in the Hesse state elections on October 28th, Merkel announced she would no longer run for re-election as party leader – nor as chancellor when her term comes to an end in 2021.

But her decision seems to have given the party a new lease of life.

Kramp-Karrenbauer described the competition between the candidates as “absolutely positive” and “stimulating for the party”.

“So far the competition is a fair one, even if there are points, which are addressed critically,” she told the Passauer Neue Presse. “It is clear that the party should continue after the conference as strengthened and united.”

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.