Following the CDU fiasco in the regional election in the state of Hesse, Angela Merkel stated that she wouldn’t seek re-election as the party leader at its congress this December and revealed that this term will also be her last as Germany's chancellor.
Amid the “CDU quake,” several prominent CDU figures reportedly voiced their intentions to enter the race for the key party post and, eventually, lead the CDU to another term in the German government. The German press added several potential candidates, who had been tight-lipped about their party leadership ambitions, to the list.
The CDU leader of 18 years declined to back anyone hoping to take her position, but other Christian Democrats haven’t kept their preferences secret.
CDU Crown Princess
CDU's General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, or AKK, has long been viewed as a probable Merkel replacement. The former minister-president of the tiny German state of Saarland took the high-level party post this February. The politician, who some have dubbed a mini-Merkel and Merkel of Saarland, has been repeatedly named a close ally to 'Mutti' Merkel. In her time, Merkel also made the leap to the chancellorship from the position of party general secretary.
"Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has proved through her work as general secretary that she definitely could be the CDU leader… She can win elections, she can motivate the party. This is what we need. Besides, it can't hurt to have good contact between the chancellor's office and the party organization," the current head of Saarland’s government Tobias Hans (CDU) told the German newspaper Die Welt.
AKK, a devout Catholic and a mother of three, is seen as a potential favorite among the more conservative members of the CDU, who have long hoped for change, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a Frankfurt daily newspaper, suggests. However, AKK has previously been subject to public controversy for her vocal opposition to same-sex marriage.
Anti-Merkel and Advocate of Stricter Migration Control
Another candidate who reportedly announced his decision to run for the party leadership is German Health Minister Jens Spahn. Some CDU senior members see the 38-year-old, who has been in parliament since 2002, as a “rising star.”
He has been an outspoken critic of the incumbent Chancellor and has taken a tough stance on the nation's migration policy. He’s known for his friendship with US Ambassador Richard Grenell, who was appointed by President Donald Trump. At the same time, in contrast to the conservative standing of his possible rival AKK, he is openly gay and is married to journalist Daniel Funke.
First to Call Dibs
The former leader of the CDU group in the German parliament, Friedrich Merz, was reportedly the first to enter the race for the party leadership. Known for his calls on migrants to assimilate and adopt traditional German values, Merz is seen as hailing from the conservative wing of the CDU.
Merz has a long-running feud with Angela Merkel, who ousted him from his leading position in parliament shortly after she overtook the CDU leadership. Among others, he has criticized the Chancellor for dragging the party to the left. After quitting parliament, he has been a board member of several companies, including the US hedge fund BlackRock.
Another prominent Christian Democrat on the list of Merkel’s successors is the Minister President of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet.
Laschet was elected to the office just a year ago. Earlier, he was a legislatur in Germany's national parliament and the European Parliament as well as in Merkel’s first cabinet. He has occasionally backed Merkel, but also managed to win the support of the liberal and anti-immigration Free Democrats.
Although some reports have referred to him as a possible mediator candidate, Laschet told reporters that he had not declared his wish to run for CDU leader as it was "more important at this time to reflect, to see what it means for the party and how the party can be kept united."