Who could replace German Chancellor Angela Merkel as CDU party chief?

(From left) Prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet, German Health Minister Jens Spahn, and Christian Democratic Union Secretary General Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer have all been touted as possible replacements for Chancellor Angela Mer
(From left) Prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet, German Health Minister Jens Spahn, and Christian Democratic Union Secretary General Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer have all been touted as possible replacements for Chancellor Angela Merkel.PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (AFP) - Ranging from loyal allies to fierce critics, there is no shortage of possible contenders to succeed Germany's Angela Merkel as head of the centre-right CDU party in December and secure a shot at succeeding her as chancellor.

Here's a look at the top expected candidates.

CROWN PRINCESS: 'AKK'

Known as the "mini-Merkel", 56-year-old Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer - former state premier of tiny Saarland - is a loyal follower of the Chancellor's centrist line that has shaped CDU and German politics over the past two decades.

At Dr Merkel's initiative, she became party general secretary in February, the number two spot offering a leg-up towards taking the helm.

Often referred to by her initials "AKK", her Catholic views overlap more with the conservative wing of the CDU than Dr Merkel on social questions like abortion or gay marriage.

'ANTI-MERKEL': JENS SPAHN

Just 38 years old, right-winger Jens Spahn is seen by many as the "anti-Merkel".

The Chancellor named him health minister in her fourth government to appease the CDU's right wing, but he has not held back from criticising what he sees as her overly "social-democratic" party line.

He has sharpened his profile through meetings with conservative darlings like Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and US ambassador to Berlin Richard Grenell, a prominent supporter of President Donald Trump.

A picture of Mr Grenell and Mr Spahn, who are both openly gay, posing with their respective partners after a casual dinner in Berlin made headlines in Germany.

 
 

COMPROMISE: ARMIN LASCHET

Elected state premier of Germany's most populous region North Rhine-Westphalia just last year, 57-year-old Armin Laschet could emerge as the compromise candidate to heal divisions that have torn at the CDU under Dr Merkel.

A political veteran who has served in the Bundestag national parliament and the European Parliament and as family minister in Dr Merkel's first government, Mr Laschet has often backed her moderate course.

He can count on the support of Merkel critic Christian Lindner, who heads the liberal Free Democrats and recently said Mr Laschet "has what it takes to be chancellor".

AVENGER: FRIEDRICH MERZ

Mr Friedrich Merz, 62, has never forgiven the Chancellor for driving him out as head of the party's group of MPs in the Bundestag in 2002.

Like Mr Spahn, financial policy expert and social conservative Merz has complained that Dr Merkel led the CDU too far to the left.

He quit the Bundestag following his defeat at her hands, returning to work as a lawyer and heading the supervisory board of mammoth asset manager Blackrock's German arm.