BERLIN • Ms Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer vowed to safeguard German stability and hew to the political centre as the former state premier seeks to sharpen her profile in a hotly contested race to replace Dr Angela Merkel as head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
The CDU secretary-general, a close Merkel ally, is facing stiff competition for the post from BlackRock Inc's Mr Friedrich Merz, a one-time rival to the Chancellor who represents a sharper break for a party itching for change after a string of disastrous election results.
"I'm of the deepest conviction that the political stability at the root of Germany's success" lies with broad-based political parties, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer said at a press conference in Berlin yesterday in her first extended comments on her plans for the party. The CDU should be "the political home for as many people as possible in this country".
She signalled she would not throw out Dr Merkel's accommodating migration policy. While the influx of almost 900,000 asylum seekers in 2015 "can't be reversed", public trust in migration policy can only be restored "step by step", she said, echoing language typical of Dr Merkel.
Dubbed "mini-Merkel" by some media, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer waited for more than a week to present a platform after Mr Merz and fellow right-wing contender Jens Spahn quickly jumped on Dr Merkel's decision to step down from the party leadership.
Whoever wins the nod from some 1,000 delegates at a Dec 7 convention in Hamburg will be in prime position to become the CDU's chancellor candidate and could hasten Dr Merkel's exit.
The race for party leadership involves eight regional conferences that will give powerful local chapters a close look at all the contenders. Mr Merz, 62, will have to rebuild his standing with the base. He left politics more than a decade ago after losing out in a power struggle with Dr Merkel.
While Mr Merz is cosmopolitan and touts his global connections in business and politics, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, is grounded in her home state of Saarland, a rural region near the French border that has struggled with the transition from heavy industry. As state premier, she reached across the aisle and partnered the Social Democrats.
Since effectively being anointed as Dr Merkel's preferred successor by becoming CDU secretary-general in February, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer has been looking to move out of the Chancellor's shadow with a more conservative stance on migration. She has also been taking English lessons to try to spruce up her international credentials.