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Germany’s conservatives launch race to replace Merkel

The search for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's eventual successor begins in earnest this week, as her centre-right CDU party opens the race to elect a new leader after her heir apparent stepped down.

Germany's conservatives launch race to replace Merkel
Jens Spahn, Armin Laschet and Friedrich Merz. Photo: DPA

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was Merkel's preferred successor, was toppled after just 14 months as CDU leader following a row over apparent cooperation with the far-right AfD party in a regional parliament.

The 57-year-old will hold talks this week with the three favourites to succeed her: long-time Merkel rival Friedrich Merz, Health Minister Jens Spahn and Armin Laschet, the premier of Germany's largest federal state North-Rhine Westphalia.

After Kramp-Karrenbauer failed to unite the party behind her, fears abound that the bid to find a worthy successor to Merkel could split the CDU, as the top candidates have differences in political direction.

“The problem with political giants is that they have to end like giants… an orderly transition of power is not possible,” wrote popular daily Bild on Sunday, comparing Merkel to former CDU chancellor Helmut Kohl.

READ ALSO: Merkel rival Merz in bid to succeed her as German chancellor

Conservative roots

After nearly two decades in which Merkel has positioned the CDU firmly in the centre, the race is set to be defined by differing visions of the party's future.

Merz and Spahn, both of whom ran against Kramp-Karrenbauer in the last leadership race, advocate a return to the party's conservative roots, while Laschet is more of a centrist like Merkel.

Merz, a 64-year-old former lawyer and board member at the German arm of investment firm BlackRock, called Merkel's government “unsustainable” and “abysmal” last November.

Ambitious 38-year-old Spahn, meanwhile, has combined social liberalism on issues such as gay marriage with a harder line on immigration.

Speaking to Bild on Sunday, the leader of the CDU's parliamentary youth wing Mark Hauptmann said a “team solution” between Merz and Spahn would be “ideal”.

“They would speak to the conservative wing but also to the youth, and cover both rural and urban milieus,” he said.

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Though widely seen as the continuity candidate, 58-year-old Laschet criticised Merkel's European policy in a speech Sunday, calling for a “quicker and more decisive response” to French President Emmanuel Macron's EU reform proposals.

And some believe that cooperation between all three candidates may be the best way to keep the CDU united.

“The CDU needs all three, regardless of which roles they take,” former CDU general secretary Ruprecht Polenz told Bavarian radio on Saturday.

Electoral pressure

The contest comes as the CDU struggles to fend off electoral pressure from the AfD to the right and the Green Party, which is soaring in the polls, to the left.

It has tumbled from 40 percent of the vote under Merkel in 2013 to poll at just 26 percent, according to an Infratest survey published last Thursday.

Angela Merkel wants to step down as chancellor when her term ends in 2021. Photo: DPA

Leading conservative figures have warned that the party could lose further support if the leadership question is allowed to drag out.

“We need clarity, quickly,” Alexander Dobrindt, the parliamentary leader of the CDU's Bavarian sister party CSU, told broadsheet Die Welt on Sunday.

Kramp-Karrenbauer herself has repeatedly said she wants the question of her succession to be resolved by the summer.

After this week's meetings with candidates, she will hold further talks with CDU grandees next Monday before agreeing a definitive time frame for her departure.

There may yet be another twist in the tale, however.

Kramp-Karrenbauer has called for her successor to also be named as the CDU and CSU's joint candidate for chancellor at the next elections.

Yet CSU leader Markus Söder said Monday that he believes the two questions should be answered separately.

While the CSU would not meddle in the CDU leadership debate, Söder said, “the question of the election candidate can only be answered together”.

His comments will prompt speculation that the CSU leader favours a fourth prospective successor to Merkel: himself.

 By Coralie Febvre

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TRAVEL NEWS

Germany approves €9 public transport ticket for summer

It's official - people in Germany will get cheap public transport for three months this summer after the €9 ticket was approved.

Germany approves €9 public transport ticket for summer

As part of a host of energy relief measures to cushion the cost of living crisis, the German government is offering cheap public transport for the months of June, July and August. 

Monthly tickets will be available at a price of €9 (or €27 for all three months) and they will allow people to use all buses, trains and trams in local and regional transport throughout the country.

So even if people buy the ticket in Munich, they will also be able to use local and regional buses, trains and trams elsewhere in Germany, whether it’s Hamburg or Cologne. 

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

The ticket will not be valid, however, on long-distance transport such as ICE trains or Flixbus.

The offer was put together by the coalition government – made of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the FDP.

The Bundestag voted for the initiative on Thursday, agreeing to give federal states a subsidy of €2.5 billion to fund the project. 

And on Friday, the Bundesrat – the upper house of parliament that represents the states – gave the green light to the ticket, paving the way for it to begin on June 1st. 

States had wanted an extra €1.5 billion funding boost to deal with lost revenue, however it would have been hugely controversial if they had blocked it.

READ ALSO: German states threaten to block the €9 ticket in the Bundesrat

During a debate on Thursday, federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) said the €9 project was “already a success”.

“All of Germany is talking about local public transport,” he said, adding that it is also being viewed with interest abroad. 

READ ALSO: ‘Fantastic’: Your verdict on Germany’s €9 ticket

The Left party (Die Linke) voted in favour of the €9 ticket, but leader Bernd Riexinger said he thought the plan didn’t go far enough. “Three months is simply too little,” he said.

The opposition, however, slammed the move. Christian Democrat Michael Donth called it an “expensive experiment”.

Rail operator Deutsche Bahn will offer the ticket for sale as early as Monday. Local public transport providers across the country are also preparing their ticket machines for the initiative. It will also be available in travel centres.

People with subscriptions to local transport will automatically benefit from the offer. 

In some regions, such as Stuttgart and Freiburg, the ticket is already available for purchase.

READ ALSO: How to get a hold of the €9 ticket in Berlin

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