German Chancellor Angela Merkel and head of the CDU political party is standing down from her post as leader at the party’s convention on December 7th. She will remain chancellor of Germany until 2021.
The Christian Democrats will vote for their next party leader in Hamburg during their annual convention. Merkel had previously declared she would not be running again after 18 years in the role but intended to remain chancellor until 2021, when the next German federal election is to be held.
Merkel stated she would not seek any political office after 2021. She has been CDU leader since 2000 and chancellor since 2005. She also decided not to recommend any single individual as her successor as leader of the CDU. However, the search for the candidate to succeed the long-serving German leader has produced three frontrunners. The winner of the three high-profile contenders vying to lead the party is also likely to become the favourite to run for chancellor in Germany's next election.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the CDU's general secretary since February, is a Merkel ally and the closest to her centrist stance. She highlights her experience in regional government, which saw her become the first woman to become a state's interior minister, or top security official, and serve as governor of western Saarland state. She has talked tough on immigration issues, proposing a lifelong entry ban to Europe for asylum-seekers convicted of serious crimes. However, she has also warned that endlessly repeating arguments about the 2015 migrant influx is a turn-off for voters.
Friedrich Merzis is a one-time Merkel rival and stands for a more conservative and business-friendly approach. Merz has led the centre-right group before, from 2000 until 2002 and left parliament in 2009. A radical tax reform that he advocated and a public debate surrounding his comments that foreigners should learn German "Leitkultur", (roughly translatable as ‘guiding culture’), led to him leaving politics behind until now. In recent years, he has practised as a lawyer and headed the supervisory board of the German branch of investment manager BlackRock. Merz has presented his time away from politics as a virtue, saying that he has, "had the opportunity ... to look from outside at politics and its decisions."
In his campaign he has criticised an "unregulated influx" of migrants and briefly appeared to question the right to asylum enshrined in the German constitution but quickly backpedalled and clarified his statements on Twitter.
Jens Spahn, often described as a Merkel critic, became health minister in March. He has since made migration a focus, calling it the "elephant in the room." He has said that security is a key issue and argued that "not everything is good again" even though the flow of migrants has slowed, AP reported. Spahn said that his party does not necessarily need to "shift to the right," but needs to start "a real change of generations." According to predictions in the German press he seems highly unlikely to succeed this time but might be positioning himself for the CDU's next leadership challenge.
Whoever becomes CDU leader will have to work closely with Angela Merkel. Merkel herself has made it clear she would prefer to not get involved in the election but expressed her certainty that she would be able to work well with any of the candidates.