Thu | Apr 2, 2020

Merkel’s party in crisis as heir apparent quits

Published:Tuesday | February 11, 2020 | 12:06 AM
Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) chairwoman and Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer speaks during a press conference in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. Angela Merkel’s designated successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will quit her role as head of the Germany’s strongest party in summer and won’t stand for the chancellorship.(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) chairwoman and Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer speaks during a press conference in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. Angela Merkel’s designated successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will quit her role as head of the Germany’s strongest party in summer and won’t stand for the chancellorship.(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) chairwoman and Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer enters the stage for a press conference in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. Angela Merkel’s designated successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will quit her role as head of the Germany’s strongest party in summer and won’t stand for the chancellorship.(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) and CDU party Chairwoman and Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer attend the party’s board meeting at the headquarters in Berlin, Germany, on Monday, February 10. Angela Merkel’s designated successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will quit her role as head of Germany’s strongest party in summer and won’t stand for the chancellorship.
In this Friday, Dec. 7, 2018 photo then newly elected CDU chairwoman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, center, is flanked by the defeated candidates Jens Spahn, left, and Friedrich Merz, right, as she waves during the party convention of the Christian Democratic Party CDU in Hamburg, Germany. Angela Merkel’s designated successor will quit her role as head of the Germany’s strongest party and won’t stand for the chancellorship following a debacle in a regional election. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
FILE - In this Thursday, April 27, 2017 file photo Christian Democrats candidate Armin Laschet and German chancellor Angela Merkel wave to supporters during a state election campaign in Oelde, Germany. Angela Merkel’s designated successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will quit her role as head of the Germany’s strongest party, CDU, and won’t stand for the chancellorship following a debacle in a regional election. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, file)
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BERLIN (AP):

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s heir apparent unexpectedly threw in the towel yesterday, plunging her conservative party into an even deeper crisis as it struggles to agree on its future political direction after losing votes to the far right.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told leading members of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that she won’t be seeking the chancellorship in next year’s general election, upending Merkel’s plans to hand her the reins after more than 15 years in power.

The announcement follows days of in-fighting within the party over its handling last week of the election of a governor in the state of Thuringia. Regional party lawmakers there voted with the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD) to oust the left-wing incumbent, defying appeals from Kramp-Karrenbauer and further undermining her leadership.

The vote in Thuringia broke what is widely regarded as a taboo in post-war German politics around cooperating with extremist parties.

“The AfD stands against everything we as the CDU represent,” Kramp-Karrenbauer told reporters yesterday in Berlin. “Any convergence with AfD weakens the CDU.”

She likewise ruled out any cooperation with the Left party of former Thuringia Governor Bodo Ramelow, who headed the former East German state from 2014 until last week. She will remain as Germany’s defence minister.

Merkel has said she will not run for a fifth term in Germany’s next general election, which is now scheduled for fall 2021. But any shift to the right in Merkel’s party could trigger a break-up of her federal coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats and increase the chances of an early national election.

“If it’s up to me, it won’t have any effect on the stability of the grand coalition,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said after announcing her planned withdrawal.

concerns about the fallout

But leading figures in Merkel’s party expressed concerns about the fallout from the announcement.

Peter Altmaier, Germany’s economy minister and a close Merkel ally, said the Christian Democrats were in “an unusually serious situation”.

Recent polls had Merkel’s conservative block at about 28 per cent support nationally, followed by the left-leaning Greens at about 22 per cent. The Social Democrats are struggling with only about 14 per cent support, about the same as the far-right AfD.

Among the names currently being bandied around as future CDU party leaders are Health Minister Jens Spahn and Friedrich Merz, who were beaten to the leadership by Kramp-Karrenbauer in 2018. Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, is also being mentioned as a possible contender.