Will new CDU leader inherit Merkel’s legacy?

By Cui Hongjian Source:Global Times Published: 2018/12/12 15:43:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, commonly called "AKK" in German political circle and secretary-general of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), was elected leader of the party at a special conference on Friday last week, bringing Chancellor Angela Merkel's 18 years at the helm to an end.

The election was closely watched around the world on account of its conceivable influence on future politics in Germany and Europe.

If Merkel plans to step down before the end of her term in 2021, Kramp-Karrenbauer will undoubtedly replace her as the German chancellor. If Merkel does not seek another term beyond 2021, Kramp-Karrenbauer will also run for chancellor as the CDU leader. Currently, CDU is still the most popular party in Germany although its support rate is declining. Thus, Kramp-Karrenbauer's chances to be the next German chancellor are high.

Known as mini-Merkel or Merkel 2.0, Kramp-Karrenbauer is regarded as Merkel's "anointed heir," though some critics dismiss the idea. She joined the CDU in 1981 at the age of 19 and was made secretary-general of the party in February 2018. She became the first woman to serve as a state minister for internal affairs in 2000 and also the first woman to serve as prime minister of Saarland, where she grew up, according to BBC.

With similar political experience, she and Merkel share a deft and balanced political style, as well as matching policy leanings.

Kramp-Karrenbauer clinched a narrow victory over Friedrich Merz, a millionaire lawyer and a long-time Merkel rival, with 51.8 percent of the vote in the party election. In spite of support from Merkel, Kramp-Karrenbauer's own political base is relatively weak. Her victory in the run-off vote indicates that CDU tends to seek stability, but some problems remain unresolved.

For instance, Kramp-Karrenbauer may have different views on the immigration issue. Though supporting Merkel's policy on immigration, Kramp-Karrenbauer wasn't afraid of speaking out when immigrants broke rules. She has suggested she would encourage debate within her party on issues such as immigration. It therefore remains uncertain to what extent she will inherit Merkel's political legacy as she has to strike a sensitive balance.

Merkel will have to maintain some control over the CDU through her new successor to ensure her administration can work. But Kramp-Karrenbauer should not be seen staying in her predecessor's shadow lest she raises eyebrows inside the party.

If Kramp-Karrenbauer succeeds Merkel as chancellor in 2021, her administration is likely to face huge political constraints from within her party, like what Merkel faced in the early days of her rule. That would make it hard for Kramp-Karrenbauer to break new diplomatic ground in foreign relations, including ties between China and Germany.

Nevertheless, there exist several stabilizing factors in China-Germany relations to hedge the possible reduced ability of Kramp-Karrenbauer to deal with the country's external

relations.

The author is director of the Department of European Studies, China Institute of International Studies. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn



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