Germany: Staying the course with ‘mini-Merkel’
Angela Merkel’s legacy is secure, said Oliver Georgi in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The German chancellor’s center-right Christian Democratic Union last week elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56—Merkel’s chosen successor—to take over as party leader. It’s the best possible outcome for Merkel. After a series of painful CDU losses in regional elections, the four-time chancellor announced in October that she would cede party leadership now and step down as chancellor when her term ends in 2021. Had the party chosen the “polarizing” Merkel critic Friedrich Merz, Merkel would likely have had to leave office early. A millionaire lawyer who denounced the chancellor’s 2015 decision to welcome nearly 1 million asylum seekers to Germany, Merz wanted to move the party to the right and win back voters from the nationalist Alternative for Germany party. Yet the CDU has shed voters not only to the far right but also to the leftist Greens, and those voters would never return to a party led by Merz. In the end, the CDU opted—with a slim 52 percent majority—to continue big-tent centrism in the form of the “mini-Merkel,” Kramp-Karrenbauer. That means Merkel will get to manage her own exit and “won’t be unceremoniously hounded out of office.”
Yet Kramp-Karrenbauer, popularly known as AKK, is no Merkel clone, said Ralf Neukirch in Der Spiegel. The two come from utterly different backgrounds: While Merkel is a Lutheran vicar’s daughter, a Russian-speaking East German, and a scientist who never had children, AKK is a Catholic mother of three and a career politician who speaks excellent French. Kramp-Karrenbauer is more emotional than her mentor, and her instincts are more conservative. She opposes gay marriage “with a vehemence that is alien to Merkel” and has said that asylum seekers who commit crimes should be speedily deported. Still, in her seven years as the first female premier of the western state of Saarland, Kramp-Karrenbauer proved that she shares Merkel’s “calm, measured style,” as well as her “iron nerves and sense of political timing.”
She’ll need those to unite the CDU, said Stefan Braun in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. AKK is personable and popular among rank-and-file party members, but she’ll also have to be “clever and creative” to keep the prominent right-wingers who supported Merz on board. Will she be up against sexism? asked Susanne Gaschke in Die Welt. From the beginning, certain elements felt “a hatred” for Merkel simply because a woman had vaulted above them. It was “frustrated masculinity” at least as much as anger over immigration that caused normally sober German politicians to join protesters’ chants of “Merkel must go!” Now another woman is taking over the CDU, which has the lowest proportion of female lawmakers among the major parties. Ordinary CDU members still admire Merkel, and many already love AKK. Yet whether “loud, embittered males” will transfer their hatred of Merkel to her successor is “a crucial question” for her success—and her ultimate election as the next chancellor.