Tensions grip Merkel’s CDU ahead of succession vote

Tensions mounted in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right party on Thursday a day before a vote to decide who succeeds her as party chief, with splits deepening among party heavyweights.

Tensions grip Merkel's CDU ahead of succession vote
Merkel leaves a CDU meeting in December 2016. Photo: DPA

Tensions mounted in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right party on Thursday a day before a vote to decide who succeeds her as party chief, with splits deepening among party heavyweights.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier rapped former finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble for openly voicing support for corporate lawyer Friedrich Merz to succeed Merkel as chair of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

In contrast, Altmaier has plumped for Merz's rival and Merkel's preferred choice, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is now general secretary of the party.

“Since Wolfgang Schäuble has now opened the floodgates, I can say that I am convinced that Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has the best chance to unite the CDU and win elections,” Altmaier told regional newspaper Rheinische Post on Thursday.

“She has done that several times under difficult conditions,” he said about the former premier of the small state of Saarland.

Although Merkel herself has shied away from publicly naming her preference, 56-year-old Kramp-Karrenbauer is widely seen as her anointed crown princess.

Merz, who had quit politics 15 years ago after losing a power struggle against Merkel, has for long nursed a grudge against the chancellor and is regarded by many as her nemesis.

His experience in the corporate world and his economically liberal position
have secured him support from Germany's business giants.

SEE ALSO: What you need to know about Merkel's possible successors

Former CDU leaders before Merkel: Konrad Adenauer (photo from 1963), Ludwig Erhard (photo from 1972), Kurt Georg Kiesinger (photo from 1980), Rainer Barzel (photo from 1969), Helmut Kohl (photo from 1998), Wolfgang Schäuble (photo from 1996). And Angela Merkel (photo from 2015). Photo: DPA

'Must prevent split'

Those party faithful who complain that Merkel has shifted the party too far left – on issues from immigration to green energy – are also looking to Merz to bring the CDU back to its conservative roots.

Schäuble, the parliamentary speaker, on Wednesday said he was “certain that it would be best for the country” if Merz won Friday's vote at the party congress gathering 1,001 delegates.

Schäuble argued that the CDU needs to win back voters who have abandoned
it for the far-right party AfD.

“Friedrich Merz is someone who can send clear signals with clear concepts, who has the courage to not wait until the end of a discussion, but rather to shape it,” the CDU heavyweight told the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

“That may create some resistance, but it would be good for political debate.”

With the cracks within the party laid bare, the premier of Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, called for unity.

“We must do everything to prevent” a split in the party, he told newspaper group Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

“What is decisive for the CDU is the period after the party chairman vote,” he said, urging the newly elected leader to send a clear sign for unity.

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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”.