From ‘avenger’ to ‘anti-Merkel’: Who could be Germany’s next chancellor?

The race to succeed Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor became more unpredictable than ever after her protegee Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer threw in the towel as leader of the centre-right party.

From 'avenger' to 'anti-Merkel': Who could be Germany's next chancellor?
Friedrich Merz and Jens Spahn. Photo: DPA

Here's a look at four possible candidates for the chancellery from Merkel's CDU/CSU conservative bloc.

Avenger: Friedrich Merz

Friedrich Merz, 64, has never forgiven Merkel for driving him out as head of the party's group of MPs in the Bundestag in 2002.

He was narrowly beaten in the vote for party leader by Merkel's preferred successor Kramp-Karrenbauer in December 2018, and has been waiting in the wings ever since.

He announced this month he was quitting his job on the supervisory board of the German arm of investment firm BlackRock to dedicate himself to politics and helping the CDU “renew itself”.

Favoured by the CDU's most conservative members, Merz wants to shift the party to the right to woo back voters lost to the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant AfD.






Ich freue mich auf einen spannenden und konstruktiven Parteitag der @CDU #cdubpt19 #merz #CDU

A post shared by Friedrich Merz (@merzcdu) on Nov 22, 2019 at 2:12am PST

Compromise: Armin Laschet

State premier of Germany's most populous region North Rhine-Westphalia, 58-year-old Armin Laschet could emerge as the compromise candidate.

A political veteran who has served in the national parliament and the European Parliament and as families minister in Merkel's first government, Laschet has often backed her moderate course.

He has won plaudits for his tough stance against criminal gangs in his state, while his liberal leanings make him acceptable to Merkel's centre-left coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

'Anti-Merkel': Jens Spahn

At just 39 years old the youngest potential candidate, the ambitious Health Minister Jens Spahn is seen by many as the “anti-Merkel”.

Highly critical of Merkel's decision to open the door to an influx of asylum seekers in 2015, he is liked by the CDU's more right-wing faction.

“Spahn would represent a new start,” the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine daily said, seeing in him “a brave party leader” and “potent” possible chancellor.

Long shot: Markus Söder

The 53-year-old leader of Merkel's Bavarian CSU sister party is seen as having a more distant shot at the chancellery -– and may not even want to throw his hat in the ring.

Long a defender of traditional Christian values as Bavaria's state premier, Söder has in recent months tried to soften his image, notably by calling for more climate protection.

He unequivocally condemned last week's vote fiasco in the state of Thuringia, where regional CDU lawmakers broke a taboo by voting in the same camp as the far-right AfD to oust a state premier.

Söder called the vote “an unacceptable breach in the dam”, winning praise for his firm stance while Kramp-Karrenbauer and the CDU scrambled to contain the fallout.

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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”.