Right-wing 66-year-old Friedrich Merz will become the next president of the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Angela Merkel’s party. Merz has widely outperformed his two rivals, the centrists Norbert Röttgen and Helge Braun, in a vote among the ranks of the formation, which must be ratified in a federal congress in January. With 62% of the votes, the affiliates have massively supported the turn to the right represented by Merz, Merkel’s historical rival and who was running for the third time to lead the formation.
The resounding defeat in the elections on September 26 forced the CDU to rethink its future, both in the question of leadership and in the ideological course of the former mass party. The candidate with whom the Christian Democrats participated in the elections, Armin Laschet, announced shortly after the debacle -24.1% of the votes, the worst historical result of the formation- a turn of the rudder to renew all management positions and give voice for the first time to the more than 400,000 members of the party.
The bases were able to vote by mail or online to choose one of the candidates, who were presented to the supporters in a three-party debate and with individual interviews broadcast live by the party. Participation was very high, 64%, something that was surprising because the CDU did not usually involve members in any important decision. Until now, the presidents were voted by 1,001 territorial delegates in the federal congresses.
The polls gave an advantage to hawk Friedrich Merz, millionaire, good speaker, lawyer by profession and more than two decades ago considered one of the greatest promises of the CDU. He came to lead the parliamentary group, until Angela Merkel took that position in 2002 and put him aside. In 2009 he left politics and went into private business. He worked in his own law firm, as an advisor to a multitude of companies and was also chairman of the supervisory board of BlackRock, the world’s largest fund manager, in Germany. He returned in 2018 with his eyes on the fight for the party, first, and the Foreign Ministry later.
This was the third attempt to seize the presidency of the party. He was a candidate in the Hamburg congress in December 2018 and lost by very few votes to Merkel’s protégé, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, until a few days ago, Minister of Defense. He also faced the current president, Armin Laschet, in January 2021.
Very critical of the chancellor, especially with her immigration policy, her election represents a clear shift from the centrist line of the German leader. Since he returned to the political arena, Merz promises to recover what he calls “the essences of the party”, that is, to swing back to the right to try to recover the almost one million voters who were seduced by the extreme right of Alternativa. for Germany (AfD). During this campaign in which he has competed against Norbert Röttgen and Helge Braun, however, he has been much more moderate in his public appearances and has avoided openly criticizing the stage of Merkel, who has been fired after 16 years in power and undefeated in four consecutive elections.
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Röttgen, 56, aimed to lead the German center-right in the wake of Merkel’s legacy. He was the Chancellor’s Minister of the Environment and has presided over the Foreign Affairs committee of the Bundestag since 2014. He competed against Merz and Laschet in last January’s congress. The also centrist Helge Braun, 49, was the only one of the candidates who brought something new to the trio that aspired to the Conservative leadership. Younger, from the state of Hesse (the other candidates and Laschet come from North Rhine-Westphalia) and a doctor by training, he was until a few days ago Merkel’s right hand in the grand coalition government as Minister of the Chancellery.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.