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‘Lack of leadership’: Merkel under fire after far-right gains in regional German election

German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces renewed pressure from within her Christian Democrats after the centre-right party was beaten by the populist, far-right AfD in the Thuringia state election on Sunday.

'Lack of leadership': Merkel under fire after far-right gains in regional German election
The pressure is on Angela Merkel after the Thuringia vote. Photo: DPA

Her conservative critics charge that Merkel has dragged the CDU too far to the left on immigration, climate and other issues, allowing the rise of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) on the extreme right.

A long-time rival who hopes to succeed Merkel, Friedrich Merz, suggested the veteran leader dubbed “Mutti” (mummy) is already a lame duck and should bow out long before she plans to leave politics in 2021.

In his most direct attack yet, 63-year-old Merz said that “for years the chancellor's inactivity and lack of leadership have covered this country like a blanket of fog.

“I simply cannot imagine that this kind of governance will last another two years in Germany,” said Merz, an executive of the German arm of US investment firm BlackRock.

'Barely heard or seen'

Merkel, in power for almost 14 years, has faced heightened pressure ever since 2015 when she decided to keep open German borders to a mass influx of refugees and migrants.

The move earned her much praise but also sparked an angry backlash that fuelled the rise of the anti-immigration and anti-Islam AfD, now the biggest opposition party.

READ ALSO: What does the far-right AfD's success in Thuringia mean for Germany?

Björn Höcke, chairman of the AfD in Thuringia celebrating after the vote. Photo: DPA

In recent months it has topped 20 percent in three state polls in the ex-communist east — most recently Sunday when it narrowly beat Merkel's CDU in Thuringia to second spot behind the far-left Die Linke.

It was the CDU's worst ever result there and seemed to echo the demise of Germany's other mainstream party, the Social Democrats (SPD), which scored just nine percent.

News website Spiegel Online asserted that the state election showed that “the state of the CDU is at least as desolate” as that of the SPD.

READ ALSO: AfD surges to second place in Thuringia state election

The big difference for now was that the CDU remains the party of the chancellor, it said, adding however that “this could easily be missed given that Angela Merkel is barely heard or seen these days”.

'Something must change'

It was after a similar state poll setback last year that Merkel dramatically handed over the CDU leadership to her preferred successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, widely known by her initials AKK.

Friedrich Merz and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer earlier this year. Photo: DPA

AKK in a later vote beat Merz for the party chair's position and more recently also took on the post of defence minister, but in recent months her political star has dimmed.

Doubts about AKK have grown after several blunders and gaffes, including a spat with a YouTube personality, a joke about intersex people and a surprise proposal for a peacekeeping mission to Syria that sparked open discord within
the cabinet.

Tilman Kuban, head of the CDU's youth wing, which leans towards Merz, this week openly asked whether AKK is the right candidate to lead the party.

Another critic who took aim at both Merkel and her crown princess was parliamentary group co-leader Axel Fischer, who called the latest defeat “thelogical consequence of national CDU policies that seems to lack any substance”.

An outsider, the Free Democrats' co-leader Wolfgang Kubicki, put it more bluntly, declaring that Kramp-Karrenbauer simply “lacks the stature” to lead the CDU or run for chancellor.

Things are likely to come to a head toward the end of the year, when the SPD will decide whether to stay in Merkel's coalition or leave, which could spark new elections.

Before then, the CDU will face their own fireworks, at a party congress in late November.

Merz has so far held his fire against AKK, preferring to attack the government as a whole.

“The image of the government is simply abysmal,” he thundered this week, demanding that “something must change”.

By Yacine Le Forestier

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POLITICS

Ex-chancellor Schröder sues German Bundestag for removing perks

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has sued the German parliament for removing some of his official post-retirement perks over his links to Russian energy giants, his lawyer said Friday.

Ex-chancellor Schröder sues German Bundestag for removing perks

Schröder, 78, has come under heavy criticism for his proximity to Russian President Vladimir Putin and involvement with state-backed energy companies.

The decision to suspend Schröder’s taxpayer-funded office and staff in May was “contrary to the rule of law”, Michael Nagel, told public broadcaster NDR.

Schröder “heard of everything through the media”, Nagel said, noting that the Social Democrat had asked for a hearing before the budget committee responsible but was not given the chance to express himself.

READ ALSO: Germany strips Schröder of official perks over Russia ties

Schröder’s lawyers filed the complaint with an administrative Berlin court, a spokesman for the court confirmed.

In its decision to strip him of the perks, the committee concluded that Schröder, who served as chancellor from 1998 to 2005, “no longer upholds the continuing obligations of his office”.

Most of Schröder’s office staff had already quit before the final ruling was made.

Despite resigning from the board of Russian oil company Rosneft and turning down a post on the supervisory board of gas giant Gazprom in May, Schröder has maintained close ties with the Kremlin.

The former chancellor met Putin in July, after which he said Moscow was ready for a “negotiated solution” to the war in Ukraine — comments branded as “disgusting” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Last week, the Social Democrats concluded that Schröder would be allowed to remain a member after he was found not have breached party rules over his ties to the Russian President.

Schröder’s stance on the war and solo diplomacy has made him an embarrassment to the SPD, which is also the party of current Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

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