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POLITICS

Friedrich Merz to be next leader of German conservatives

Friedrich Merz, a die-hard opponent of Angela Merkel within Germany's conservative CDU, was elected party chief on Friday, marking a new direction after its disastrous defeat in September's election.

Friedrich Merz (middle) is congratulated by Helge Braun (left) and Norbert Röttgen on winning the CDU leadership vote.
Friedrich Merz (middle) is congratulated by Helge Braun (left) and Norbert Röttgen on winning the CDU leadership vote. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

Merz, a 66-year-old member of the Bundestag and former MEP, had been the clear favourite to beat opponents Norbert Röttgen and Helge Braun in the election.

Almost 250,000 CDU members took part in the ballot, which saw right-winger Merz walk away with 62.1 percent of the vote. 

Röttgen, a centre-righter who heads up the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, secured 25.8 percent of the vote, while Helge Braun, who formerly headed up the chancellery under Angela Merkel, received just 12.1 percent. 

READ ALSO: Familiar faces enter race to lead German conservatives

Merz will replace Merkel ally Armin Laschet, who was forced to announce his resignation after leading the CDU-CSU bloc to its worst-ever result of 24.1 percent in the September general election.

The election result threw the conservatives into turmoil just as Merkel prepared to retire after 16 years in power.

It also opened the door to the rival SPD – the CDU’s former junior coalition partner – to secure a new coalition with the Greens and FDP and with it, the keys to the chancellery.

“I will of course stand for the party in its entirety and deal with all the issues that our party feels are important,” Merz said as the result of the vote was announced in Berlin.

Adjusting to being in the opposition “will not happen overnight, especially when we have been in government for so long and so successfully, but we will of course adjust to this role,” he said.

In the run-up to September’s elections, the veteran politician turned heads with an eccentric campaign video that harked back to his first ever election campaign in Hochsauerland in 1994. The wacky footage featured local residents chopping wood in traditional garb, not to mention a talking fox peeping out from behind a tree and saying “Sleep well, Friedrich – and turn out the light” in the voice of Helmut Kohl. 

The footage then fasts forward to 2021, where the middle-age Merz praises the shift to a modern Bonn that has developed through digitalisation.

READ ALSO: German election fever: Merkel’s parrots and a talking fox

Beyond the offbeat campaign materials, the election of Merz marks a decisive shift away from the cautious, centre-leaning politics of the Merkel era. 

As a staunch right-winger, he was one of 130 conservative MPs to vote against repealing a law change to make rape in marriage a criminal offence in 1997.

He has also been a vocal opponent of a proposed wealth tax to off-set the impact of the Covid crisis on the poorest in society, and believes in scrapping regulations such as environmental protections to encourage growth in the business sector. 

Third time lucky

A millionaire and corporate lawyer by trade, Merz had previously been pushed out of politics altogether by a power struggle with Merkel in the 2000s before returning when she resigned as head of the CDU in 2018.

He has since lost out twice in his quest to become party leader, beaten in both cases by candidates preferring a more centrist course and continuity with the Merkel era.

But it was third time lucky for Merz in a vote that brought in the CDU rank-and-file for the first time in its history, with previous party leaders picked by a much smaller number of senior members.

Almost two-thirds of 400,000 CDU members voted in the postal ballot between December 4th and 16th.

Merz now set to be officially elected at a congress on January 21st and 22nd in Hanover.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Who were the real winners and losers of Germany’s race to replace Merkel?

Member comments

  1. What does this sentence mean? “As a staunch right-winger, he was one of 130 conservative MPs to vote against repealing a law change to make rape in marriage a criminal offence in 1997.” To me it suggest he voted in support of the law? But as a ‘staunch right-winger’ I would’ve thought the opposite?

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POLITICS

Germany’s homegrown cannabis industry awaits legalisation

In the east German countryside, close to Dresden, a former abattoir is now home to the biggest indoor cannabis farm in Europe.

Germany's homegrown cannabis industry awaits legalisation

Behind the recently renovated concrete walls, the German startup Demecan has been growing marijuana in accordance with the law for the past year.

The company is one of only a handful in Germany to have a license for the production of this “green gold”, which has been legal in Germany for medicinal use since 2017.

But the budding industry is eyeing a bigger prize: Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government plans to legalise the drug for recreational use as soon as 2024, which would leave it with one of the most liberal cannabis policies in Europe.

READ ALSO: Germany agrees on plan to ‘legalise recreational cannabis’

‘Tenfold’

Inside the building, the smell of the plants — lined up in their hundreds under yellow grow lamps — is overwhelming.

“We will have the option to expand the facility to cultivate recreational cannabis,” Demecan’s managing director Philipp Goebel tells AFP.

The government coalition, led by Scholz’s Social Democrats, has put forward a roadmap for the legalisation of cannabis with a target date of 2024.

Under the draft plans, adults would be allowed to hold a maximum of between “20 and 30 grams” of cannabis for private consumption, via a network of licensed stores and pharmacies.

Demecan’s massive complex, which covers around 120,000 square metres, produces one tonne of cannabis a year, but it has yet to reach capacity.

The company could quickly increase production “tenfold” to meet growing demand, Goebel says.

Harvests at the farm happen every two weeks with workers plucking the flowers from the plant stems before they are dried.

“I like this job a lot, it is not like any other,” says 34-year-old Sven

Skoeries, who studies horticulture alongside his responsibilities at the farm.

Demecan has no trouble recruiting for its growing business, in a region otherwise marked by its ageing population and lack of workers.

“It’s a trendy product that generates a lot of interest,” Goebel says.

“It’s a new industry, that’s interesting for me,” says Jana Kleinschmidt, 25, as she snips off leaves with a pair of scissors.

As well as its own production efforts, Demecan has a license for the import of another 20 tonnes of cannabis into the country from Canada annually.

“We are currently supplying 55 percent of the German market,” says Goebel, who notes his firm is in “pole position” to capitalise on legalisation.

The Domecan campus, pictured in March 2022. picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

Snoop Dogg

The recreational cannabis market in Germany is a potential four-billion-euro business, according to a recent study by the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf.

In recent months, fundraising in the sector has taken off as businesses await the green light from legislators.

Berlin startup Cantourage, a manufacturer of cannabis-based medicines, floated 15 percent of its shares on the Frankfurt stock exchange in November.

Cansativa, the only online platform for the sale of therapeutic cannabis products in Germany, raised $15 million in February with the help of US rapper Snoop Dogg.

Sanity Group, a German company that focuses on cannabis-derived products, likewise raised $37.6 million in September.

Legalisation looks like a good deal for the government, too. The same study from Heinrich Heine University estimated the move would boost the public finances by €4.7 billion per year.

But the idea remains controversial.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany sets out plans for cannabis legalisation

At the end of October, Klaus Reinhardt, the head of the German Medical Association, called the plans “almost cynical”.

It was “shocking” to legalise a substance that could “lead to behavioural problems in adolescents, as well as addiction and psychological changes”, he said. The conservative opposition to the government has also set itself against the move.

The Bavarian state Health Minister Klaus Holetschek, who is part of the conservative Christian Social Union party, called the idea “a dangerous signal for all of Europe”.

First, however, the government’s plans need to be approved by the European Commission — or they risk going up in smoke.

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