A year and a half from the next legislative elections, the conservative right of Chancellor Merkel is shaken. The Christian Democrats of the CDU, and those of its Bavarian variant, the CSU, certainly remain the leading party in Germany. But nothing has been going well since the election of a liberal minister-president in Thuringia with the votes of the far right and the support of the local CDU.
If new elections are already planned in this former Land of the GDR, the very prospect of an alliance between the CDU and the far-right party AfD (Alternativ für Deutschland) has caused an earthquake in this marked country by his Nazi past. Chancellor Merkel’s designated runner-up, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (nicknamed AKK), has not been able to prevent this unprecedented rapprochement since the birth of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949.
By giving up the chancery race on Monday, AKK learned the lessons from this disturbing collusion. If she remains Minister of Defense, she will leave her post as president of the CDU in a few months, the time to find a successor, who will be at the same time candidate for the chancellery.
Four contenders emerge in the conservative camp to run for the chancellery after four consecutive terms of Angela Merkel.
Friedrich Merz is one of the favorites. This 64-year-old lawyer, an old enemy of the Chancellor who had sidelined him in the 1990s, was barely beaten in December 2018 by AKK for the presidency of the party. Since then, he waits for his time and spares Angela Merkel. This supporter of a clear shift to the right of the party, to recover the conservative voters now voting for the extreme right, notably judged “nullissime” the image given by the executive, and criticized Angela Merkel for “failing leadership” . As party leader, he would be sure to increase the pressure on the chancellor to leave her post prematurely.
Armin Laschet, with a more consensual profile than Friedrich Merz, heads the great federation of the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia, a region he governs. This 58-year-old man, close to the chancellor, is acceptable also for the very conservative fringes of the party, in particular because of his fight against the criminal gangs, but also for the social democratic party, partner of Merkel in the government. “Armin Laschett must run for president, otherwise he is just a paper tiger,” said Bundestag social democratic vice president Thomas Oppermann on Monday.
Jens Spahn. The young and ambitious Minister of Health, whose work is unanimously praised in this post, is classified in the right wing of the party and in the camp of anti-Merkel. At a time when the Chancellor was still holding his party with an iron fist, he had dared to criticize his migration policy according to him lax, in 2015, when hundreds of thousands of Syrian or Afghan refugees had flocked to Germany. His age, 39, and his assumed homosexuality could however cost him votes in his party, which remains very conservative on social issues.
Markus Söder, president for a little over a year of the Bavarian Christian Social Party CSU, is one of the candidates mentioned in the chancellery in 2021. This defender of traditional Christian values of 53 years has tried to refocus his image lately, discovering himself last months a passion for the defense of the environment. He also stood out for being one of the first political heavyweights to categorically condemn the election of a liberal leader in Thuringia with the voices of the CDU and the far right.
Edmund Stoiber, the last Bavarian candidate to run for office, had been beaten by social democrat Gerhard Schröder.