Kramp-Karrenbauer to take over German leadership party from Merkel

Friedrich Merz former German Christian Democratic Union faction leader left Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer General Secretary of the CDU and Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn right all members

End of an era: Merkel passes torch to new party leader

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has topped a first round of voting in the contest to succeed Angela Merkel as leader of Germany's Christian Democrat Union.

As the party's general secretary, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer was favourite to take over when Mrs Merkel announced her retirement in October.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, previously the CDU's general secretary, embraced Merkel and was quick to call for unity after the vote, saying "there is a place in this party" for her defeated leadership rivals.

The choice of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, dubbed mini-Merkel, as her successor makes that a likely scenario.

A former state premier in Saarland, where she led a three-way coalition, Kramp-Karrenbauer has a reputation for uniting support across the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and a talent for striking alliances with other parties.

Party delegates, meanwhile, gave Merkel a standing ovation and waved signs that read "thank you, boss", as she gave her last speech as CDU leader after 18 years at the party's helm.

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As CDU leader now AKK is in pole position to be the party's next candidate for chancellor - a job she admits she has her sights on. Party insiders say Kramp-Karrenbauer gets on well with Merkel. She shares many traits with her powerful mentor, including steadiness, pragmatism, and political acumen (she was state premier of Saarland for years), although she has been trying to subtly set herself apart, calling for stricter migration laws and a tougher response to Russian Federation over its recent aggression against Ukraine.

One of the most recent examples of Merz wanting a change of course for the CDU has been his outspoken criticism of the United Nations migration pact, which was revealed to have been largely drafted by the Merkel government starting in 2016.

"This is democratic order, which reflects a self-confident party", she said.

While Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, is viewed as similar to Merkel with an even temper and middle-of-the-road policies, Merz, 63, has become the torchbearer for those seeking a more decisive break from the chancellor.

Merkel, 64, has presided over Europe's most populous country and powerful economy for 13 years.

Although Merz vows that he can cooperate with Merkel as chancellor, a CDU under his leadership would hearken back to the party before she emerged - a clearer tax-cutting agenda and a greater focus on security, especially when it comes to migration, as he targets voters lost to the AfD. She moved her party relentlessly to the centre, dropping military conscription, accelerating Germany's exit from nuclear energy, introducing benefits encouraging fathers to look after their young children and allowing the introduction of gay marriage.

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For years, Merkel's popularity lifted the CDU and its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union.

"There is still huge respect for Merkel because she gave stability in Europe at a time when things were rocky", said Judy Dempsey, a nonresident senior fellow at the Carnegie Europe think tank.

At present, the center-right bloc is polling around or below 30 percent.

"Angela Merkel is one of the most widely admired and broadly influential statespeople of our time", Harvard President Larry Bacow told The Harvard Gazette.

"We are facing a turning point and need a breakthrough for the next years".

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