It’s hard to imagine German politics without Angela Merkel, but next year the country’s long-term chancellor will leave office. While some of her advisers have attempted to change her mind, Merkel — who became Germany’s leader when George W. Bush was US president — is determined to say goodbye after the end of her fourth term. But there’s a problem: less than a year before the next election in Germany, Merkel’s Christian Democrats still haven’t found a successor.
Merkel herself initially chose Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the former state premier of Saarland and current minister for defense. But once Kramp-Karrenbauer took over as chairwoman of the Christian Democrats, she stumbled from one public mishap to another and had to relinquish her plans of becoming the next chancellor. A party convention on December 4 was supposed to elect a new chairman who would almost automatically become the frontrunner of the Christian Democrats for the general election. Now, COVID has put paid to this plan.
The party leadership decided on Monday to postpone the convention, arguing that the worsening situation related to the pandemic would make it impossible to host the convention with over 1,000 delegates. The party wants to wait a little longer before possibly turning the convention into a virtual event, where candidates could present themselves to the membership before delegates elect a new chairman via postal vote.
Not everyone is happy about this plan, not least Friedrich Merz, the former parliamentary group leader, who already lost to Kramp-Karrenbauer in 2018. Merz is up against Armin Laschet, the current state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and darling of the CDU’s leadership who see him as one of their own. After the postponement was announced, Merz — who is an underdog because of his relationship with ultra-conservatives within his party – accused the party’s top brass of intentionally working against him. ‘I have clear evidence that Armin Laschet has communicated that he needs more time to improve his performance,’ Merz told Welt. ‘I am leading the surveys. If it had been different, then the vote would have taken place this year.’
Merz also believes the party leadership could attempt to ‘wear down’ all three candidates, including Laschet, to then present a surprise candidate in Jens Spahn, the health minister who has gained in popularity during the pandemic.
It is doubtful that Merz will have any success with his blunt attack against some of the party’s power-brokers, knowing how Christian Democrats want to have an elder statesman at the top. The nickname of the alliance between Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party is ‘union’ for a reason. Most of their members like to have unity and find consensus between the various factions. Critics often mockingly say the Christian Democrats are a ‘Kanzlerwahlverein’ — a party whose whole purpose is to find the next German chancellor. While there is some truth to this, the party’s biggest strength has usually been its steady leadership.
But that has changed. Merkel has deliberately detached herself from any internal conflict in her party, because she believes her role is in the government and no longer in party politics. While her decision is reasonable given that she has to manage the pandemic and recovery of the German economy, this lack of leadership has badly hurt the reputation of the Christian Democrats. Whoever replaces Merkel must bring their party back together, and do so without delay.
This article was originally published onThe Spectator’s UK website.