What Merkel’s Successor Will Mean for German Politics

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer Has a Tough Road Ahead

Merkel and Kramp-Karrenbauer at the CDU party congress in Hamburg, December 2018. Kai Pfaffenbach / REUTERS

Almost 2,000 journalists descended on Hamburg last week to witness a spectacle not seen since 1971: an open competition for the leadership of Germany’s most successful political party. The 1,001 delegates to the party congress of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had to choose the successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had been party leader for 18 years before announcing in October that she would quit following a round of bad electoral showings and sinking poll numbers for her party. Although Merkel plans to remain chancellor until the next federal election in 2021, the delegates were aware they would be voting for not just a party chair but also Merkel’s likely successor as head of government. 

They chose Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the CDU’s 56-year-old secretary-general and the former prime minister of Saarland. AKK, as she is known, beat Friedrich Merz, a 63-year-old millionaire corporate lawyer, by a razor-thin margin of 35 votes—52 percent to 48

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