BERLIN (REUTERS) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel put forward close ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Monday (Feb 19) to take over as secretary general of her Christian Democrats (CDU), heeding calls from within the party to inject new blood and groom a successor.
The decision to entrust Kramp-Karrenbauer with bolstering the CDU after it lost ground in last year’s election is significant as some party members are starting to look ahead to a post-Merkel era.
Merkel, who was CDU secretary general before becoming chancellor, said Kramp-Karrenbauer, premier of the tiny western state of Saarland, would bring “a lot of weight” to the role in what she called “difficult times, uncertain times”.
The chancellor has been under pressure from within the CDU to bring fresh faces into senior positions and to begin planning for her own succession. By promoting Kramp-Karrenbauer she achieves both, and moves an ally into a key role.
“We have known each other a long time and can rely on each other, even if we have our own views,” Merkel, 63, told a joint news conference with Kramp-Karrenbauer, 55.
Asked if she saw Kramp-Karrenbauer as a possible successor, Merkel replied: “It is your privilege that you are always three laps ahead of others ... We have our hands full managing the business of the day.”
Though Merkel has said she is available as chancellor for four years, the succession debate has been supercharged by the inclusion of a clause in a coalition deal with the Social Democrats (SPD) that envisages a review of the next government’s progress after two years to assess whether any changes to its mission are needed.
Kramp-Karrenbauer is expected to be voted into her new role at a Feb 26 party congress. Her promotion is a setback to Jens Spahn, a 37-year-old arch-conservative long seen as a rising star in the CDU with an eye on the succession. Outgoing secretary general Peter Tauber is giving up the role after a period of illness.
Sometimes dubbed “mini Merkel” by German media, Kramp-Karrenbauer is highly regarded in her party for winning an election in her region last year that buoyed the CDU’s national standing ahead of the Sept 24 federal vote.
By taking on the secretary general role, she will build up her network in the CDU, something she has had only limited ability to do as premier of Saarland, a state of just 1 million people that borders France. Merkel will remain CDU chairwoman.
She said she had decided to step down as Saarland premier and take up her new job in “one of the most difficult political phases in the history of the German federal republic so far.”
Nearly five months after the national election, Germany is still without a federal government as the SPD consults its members before embarking on a re-run of their ‘grand coalition’with Merkel’s conservative bloc.
The election saw the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party win seats in parliament for the first time – a political earthquake that followed Merkel’s 2015 decision to leave open German borders to more than 1 million migrants. The AfD has surpassed the SPD to become the second strongest party, the latest INSA opinion poll showed on Monday.
Some in the CDU are now openly calling for a succession plan. Peter Hauk, agriculture minister in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, said at a CDU meeting last week: “It was clear before the election that Angela Merkel would not remain chancellor for 100 years, and that she would have to activate the succession at some stage.
“Now is the time to do this courageously and I have no doubt this will happen.”
The sentiment was echoed by many CDU members at the meeting. “This generational change must be initiated,” party member Robert Trautwein, 66, told Reuters.
A fluent French speaker, Kramp-Karrenbauer commands respect in the party for her serious, factual approach to policymaking. She impressed Merkel last month when, after a car crash, she continued work on coalition negotiations from her hospital bed.