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Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer elected Merkel's successor as CDU leader

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a staunchly Catholic conservative career politician, has been elected as the successor to Angela Merkel as leader of Germany’s Christian Democrats.

Kramp-Karrenbauer won by just 25 votes following a nail-biting second round run-off against her main opponent, the multi-millionaire businessman, Friedrich Merz.

Wiping away tears, Kramp-Karrenbauer said she would accept the post, and thanked the party for its support and trust in her, insisting she would give new impetus to the party as it seeks to claw back the millions of voters it has lost to rightwing populists and the Greens in recent years.

“We should harness the boost this competition has given us, and use it to propel the party’s success,” she said.

Dubbed a mini-Merkel – a title she is determined to discard – Kramp-Karrenbauer was not officially endorsed by the chancellor, but was clearly her favourite, having been propelled by her to the position as the party’s general secretary in February this year.

But in a veiled sign of her support earlier in the day, Merkel made a point of praising Kramp-Karrenbauer for her contribution to the CDU’s electoral success during a valedictory speech to the party on Friday morning.

The result is seen as making it more likely that Merkel will be able to see out her fourth term until 2021. She has expressed her determination to stay on as chancellor for the remaining three years of her term in office and 56% of Germans support her decision to do so, polls show.

Kramp-Karrenbauer had won the first round of voting, securing 45 per cent or 450 votes, and went on to win 517 votes in the second.

The vote followed a nail-biting contest after Merkel announced in late October she was stepping down as party chief but intended to continue as chancellor until the next elections.

Merz, 63, an economics lawyer who had been ousted from the post of parliamentary leader of the CDU by Merkel in 2002, received 482 votes in the second round, and 392 in the first.

Friedrich Merz, one of the three candidates for the leadership of the CDU, delivers a speech to delegates at the party’s annual conference on Friday



Friedrich Merz delivers a speech to delegates at the party’s annual conference on Friday. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

He had taken the party by surprise after parachuting in from his high-powered job in the banking industry, insisting he could win back many of the millions of voters the party has lost to rightwing populism.

His supporters said that Merz would have been the more courageous option because he was determined to take the party away from the centre ground where Merkel had firmly taken it during her 18 years at the helm.

The vote marks a new era for the party, founded in 1945, which has provided Germany with a chancellor for 50 of the last seven decades. Merkel told party faithful on Friday it was “time for a change”.

Kramp-Karrenbauer – or AKK as she is popularly known, not least because many Germans find her double-barrelled name difficult to pronounce – will now be viewed as a potential future chancellor if the CDU wins the next election in 2021.

The mother of three, a self-professed strict Catholic who has served as state leader of Saarland and before that was its interior minister, has a total of 18 years’ leadership experience, all of which stood her in good stead to win the vote.

The third candidate in the running, Jens Spahn, 38, refused to withdraw his candidature, despite pressure from party colleagues to do so when it was clear that support for him was weak. Made health minister in Merkel’s government six months ago, he had been considered a front-runner for several years to succeed Merkel but was pushed aside when Merz decided to throw his hat into the ring and won the support of party heavy weights, such as the president of the Bundestag and Merkel’s former economics minister Wolfgang Schäuble.


‘It was a great honour’: Merkel receives standing ovation after farewell speech – video

Spahn secured a higher than expected result of 175 votes out of 999, but was not eligible for the second round.

Over 1,000 party delegates were eligible to vote on what was described as the most momentous decision for the party in nearly 50 years and one that will decide the future direction not only of the CDU, but also of their country and their continent.

The party has faced a dilemma, to either keep itself on the course set by Merkel – who was determined to secure the centre ground and has turned the CDU into a champion of gay marriage, a minimum wage and a quota for women in politics – or to take it more to the right in an attempt to win back the voters it has lost to the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

In Kramp-Karrenbauer it has arguably chosen a safer option than Merz, not least because she is likely to have an easier relationship with Merkel in the chancellery, than Merz, seen as having a grudge against Merkel, would likely have done. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s victory is a sign that the party wants to continue on the political path set for it by Merkel.

Nevertheless, Kramp-Karrenbauer has repeatedly argued she will forge her own path, and is decidedly more socially conservative than her predecessor. She told party delegates she was “not a mini version” of Merkel, but her “own person”.

“I have read a lot about what I am and who I am: ‘mini’, a copy, simply ‘more of the same’. Dear delegates, I stand before you as I am and as life made me and I am proud of that,” she said.

Kramp-Karrenbauer reacts after being announced the winner of the party leadership contest



Kramp-Karrenbauer reacts after being announced the winner of the party leadership contest. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

Although she supported Merkel’s open door migration policy in 2015, Kramp-Karrenbauer is in favour of tightening migration, against same sex marriage and has argued for more restrictions placed on doctors carrying out abortion.

But she also takes a liberal approach to other issues, voting in favour of a minimum wage, and supporting a women’s quota.

Some say she is still largely an unknown quantity, having played out most of her political life in Saarland.

Thousands of CDU members descended on Hamburg for the spectacle, as well as over 1,600 accredited journalists and hundreds of diplomats and political observers. Watching from the sidelines, Udo Tappe, a long-time CDU member described it as the most exiting moment in the party’s history for decades.

“My heart was with AKK, my head with Merz,” the 77-year-old retired Hamburg estate agent admitted. “I think that Kramp-Karrenbauer is better in that she has a lot more political successes behind her than Merz, but I wonder how she will stand up to the likes of autocrats like Erdogan and Putin, which Merkel did well.”

Earlier in the day Merkel had fought back tears after CDU delegates gave her a 10 minute standing ovation after she delivered an emotional speech marking the end of her leadership which she said had been both “challenging” and “a joy”.

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