Merkel loyalist wins CDU party vote to succeed her

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on Friday won a party vote to succeed the veteran leader at the helm of the centre-right CDU.

Merkel loyalist wins CDU party vote to succeed her
Merkel congratulating Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Friday. Photo: DPA

At the CDU party conference in Hamburg on Friday, former Saarland Prime Minister won a run-off against former Union faction leader Friedrich Merz.

Kramp-Karrenbauer received 517 of the 999 valid votes cast, while Merz trailed only narrowly behind 482. A majority of 500 votes was required. Health Minister Jens Spahn stepped down after the first ballot.

Kramp-Karrenbauer (also known as AKK in the German media) projected the image of a centrist in the mould of Merkel, a traditionalist who was trying to hold the Volkspartei (people's party) together.

“What she tried to present was the image of the unifier, of a leader, a future party chairwoman who can keep this very big tent together,” Joerg Forbrig, senior transatlantic expert at the German Marshall Fund, told The Local.
“She's also very conciliatory in my opinion. She emphasized that she intends to run this party as a team.”
Forbrig said that her two competitors seemed “much more intent on sharpening the conservative profile of the party, possibly also shifting it further to the right away from the middle.”
'Courage to stay the course'
AKK, 56, pledged to maintain continuity after 18 years of Merkel at the helm while opening up the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to more grassroots democracy.
In a brief, upbeat address before the vote that brought many delegates to their feet, she called on the party to reject the politics of fear as the far-right makes inroads in Germany and Europe.
“We must have the courage to stay the course against the Zeitgeist,” she said.
AKK beat corporate lawyer Friedrich Merz, 63, who had quit politics in 2009 after losing a power struggle against Merkel and has long nursed a grudge against the more centrist chancellor.
The third candidate – vocal Merkel critic and current health minister Jens Spahn – lost in the first round.
Merkel, 64, had earlier mounted a staunch defence of her moderate course since becoming chancellor in 2005.
Accepting a lengthy standing ovation from delegates, many tearful and holding “Thanks, boss” placards aloft, a visibly moved Merkel said the party had won four national elections under her by holding fast to its principles.
“In difficult times we shouldn't forget our Christian and democratic stance,” she said.
Diminished party

Merkel has moved the CDU steadily toward the political centre during her long tenure. More generous family leave, an exit from nuclear power and an end to military conscription are among her signature policies.
While Merkel remains popular, AKK inherits a diminished party which is currently polling at roughly 30 percent, far below the about 40 percent enjoyed during Merkel's heyday.
The CDU has bled support to the right in the form of the AfD, as well as to 
the resurgent Greens.
Meanwhile Germany's oldest party, the Social Democrats (SPD) — junior 
partners in Merkel's “grand coalition” – are mired in an even deeper crisis. 
The party has long languished in Merkel's shadow and could well decide to jump ship before 2021 to seek to avert further vote debacles – a move that would almost certainly trigger new elections.
Underlining the importance of the CDU's choice for the SPD's own future, party leader Andrea Nahles offered AKK close cooperation.
“You have big shoes to fill — good luck,” she tweeted.

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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”.