Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the woman many see as Angela Merkel’s natural successor both in terms of leadership style and political agenda, explained why she should be the next leader of the struggling German conservative party, the ‘Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Wednesday’s press conference in Berlin was a home game for the CDU general secretary, who hosted it in the office representing Saarland, the small southwestern state she ruled from 2011 to 2018. The CDU state party had just nominated her unanimously as head of the national party, and potentially be its chancellor candidate in the next elections, which are scheduled for 2021, but could easily come sooner.
Kramp-Karrenbauer addressed her most obvious problem – the curse and blessing of being Merkel’s unofficial favorite – first by pointing out her ties to the Chancellor, then insisting that she has something again to offer.
“This is the end of an era in which I associate many personal relationships and personal experiences,” she said, before hastily clarifying that she would not remain in the shadow of the Chancellor. . “But those days are over, and such an era can neither be simply continued nor reversed,” she said. “The decisive question is what do you do with what you have inherited that is new and better.”
Read more: Merkel: The German center is divided
The awakening of the CDU
She also highlighted her recent “listening tour” of the party’s grassroots organizations, and reported that the members were full of “pride, frustration, worry and uncertainty” – all understandable feelings, given the poor election result. of the CDU in the state of Hesse and new opinion polls which suggest that the center-right party, and pragmatic centrist politics in general, are in slow decline.
The dilemma for the CDU is that it is not clear which direction it must turn to recover these lost voters. While the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has definitely capitalized on Merkel’s perceived failure to control migration, recent national election results also show that the left-wing environmentalist party of the Greens is also attracting supporters. voters.
Kramp-Karrenbauer’s solution seems to underscore the CDU’s reputation for “accountability” – a word it has mentioned a lot, and which is also perhaps its strongest card, given that it has more experience. government as one of its two main opponents: Friedrich Merz, a CFO who has spent the past nine years out of politics, and Jens Spahn, the 38-year-old health minister with a soft spot for populist rhetoric.
His other tactic to win over the divided electorate was to insist on the CDU’s centrist message. She warned of a divisive campaign, expressed hope that Merz and Spahn would be part of the leadership even if they didn’t win, and insisted that the CDU “wants to remain a party that values ââthe binding above the division “.
Perennial migration problem
Kramp-Karrenbauer also used her 20-minute speech to address the concern that has divided the CDU the most in recent years: Merkel’s decision in September 2015 to open the border with Austria for a group of refugees. , and the political fallout that followed this.
“It’s not problem # 1, but it’s there as the problem, and there’s no point in not talking about it,” Kramp-Karrenbauer told reporters. âBut if you think you can have the discussion with the idea that you can reverse what happened in 2015, we have to be honestâ¦ and say: what happened in 2015 is reality, that is. The second point is, and we have to be very clear, is that very soon after 2015 we worked to ensure that what happened in 2015 did not happen again, something that ‘ve seen and for which I have helped to work as Prime Minister of the State. “
It was a different tone from that presented by Spahn, who last week called the migration “the white elephant in the room” in a guest article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “This debate is neither finished nor resolved” for many people, he wrote, adding that 2015 left the impression that the state had lost control, images which “will not come out so easily. people’s heads “. Spahn and Merz both called on the party to return to its “core values” of security and the rule of law.
Kramp-Karrenbauer, meanwhile, emphasized international solutions: Confidence in security, she said, “cannot be an issue that only begins in a national context.”
“We in Germany live in an open Europe, we live in a Schengen area, and it is our task to decide how this Schengen area can be completed,” she added. “How can he create internal security, guarantee internal freedom, but organize external security? The question of how to protect oneself from criminals is not a question which we can answer in Germany only.”
There is about a month until around 1,000 CDU delegates elect their next leader at a party conference in Hamburg.