The top risks that Germany's next leader is set to face
Angela Merkel’s decision to step down as leader of the Christian Democratic Union opens the race to succeed her as head of the party. Whoever gets the post will have an inside track to eventually become the CDU’s candidate for chancellor. With six weeks before a party convention in Hamburg, there’s plenty of time for jockeying. Here is a list of those who might seek to replace Merkel in early December:
Age: 56 Role: CDU general secretaryIf Merkel could choose her successor, it would be the former premier of the small state of Saarland. When Merkel picked Kramp-Karrenbauer as the party’s general secretary in February, it was seen as an attempt to position “AKK” for greater things. Like Merkel, Kramp-Karrenbauer belongs to the liberal wing of the CDU, but she holds more conservative positions on topics like migration and gay marriage. This could help her to win the support of CDU members across the aisle, even though she is seen warily as a close Merkel ally.
Age: 76 Role: Bundestag presidentHaving served under Helmut Kohl and then Merkel, including two terms as her finance minister, Schaeuble is the CDU’s undisputed elder statesman. As a former caucus head, he knows how to navigate the rival party factions: centrist and more conservative. Some in the party regard him as a potential interim chancellor if Merkel were to be forced out early, while others see him as an ideal mediator to hold battling CDU factions together during the transitional phase when Merkel’s succession will be decided.
Age: 45 Role: State premier of Schleswig-Holstein Guenther emerged from relative obscurity last year to take Germany’s northernmost state in a valuable electoral boost to Merkel. He governs Schleswig-Holstein in a three-way coalition with the pro-business Free Democratic Party and the environmental Greens—a model that Merkel tried and failed to set up at the federal level last year after the FDP withdrew. A centrist in the Merkel mold, he caused a buzz — and pushback — for saying this year that the CDU should consider aligning with the anti-capitalist Left party in the former communist east.
Age: 57 Role: State premier of North Rhine-WestphaliaAs head of the CDU’s biggest chapter, Laschet is a long-time party insider with a deep network. The head of Germany’s most populous state has been an adherent of Merkel’s more liberal line and would keep the party firmly in the middle and resist a shift to the right. The question might be whether he offers enough of a change for the rank-and-file.
Age: 38 Role: Health ministerMerkel’s health minister is a flag-bearer for the CDU’s conservative wing which has chafed at Merkel’s moderate course. His barbs against burqas, Merkel’s migration policies, dual citizenship and the use of English in Germany have earned him a following on the right. That backing prompted Merkel to bring him into her cabinet, a move that curbed his criticism and dimmed his profile even if few question that his chancellor-sized ambitions remain.
Age: 50 Role: Parliamentary caucus leader of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU)A former deputy caucus chairman with responsibility for budget and finance matters, Brinkhaus leapt up the career ladder last month when he unexpectedly deposed Merkel’s longtime Bundestag ally, Volker Kauder. A fiscal hawk who wants more say for lawmakers in shaping the eurozone, Brinkhaus defeated the favored candidate by appealing across rival CDU factions. While he maintained his victory had nothing to do with the chancellor’s future, his takeover of the key post rallying her forces in parliament helped set in motion the debate about Merkel’s succession.
Age: 60 Role: Economy ministerAltmaier has been Merkel’s main troubleshooter over the years, managing the shift to renewable energy, the NSA spying scandal and the refugee crisis among other hot button topics during his prior stints as environment minister and chief of staff. While seen as the closest of Merkel allies, he is popular and could survive her political end: either by himself becoming chancellor, or by serving a Chancellor Kramp-Karrenbauer. Both come from the Saarland and know each other well.
Ursula von der Leyen
Age: 60 Role: Defense ministerGermany’s first woman defense minister has accompanied Merkel throughout her time as chancellor, first as families minister and then at the Labor Ministry. Five years after picking up the poisoned chalice at defense, she still consistently ranks among Germany’s most popular politicians. Perennially tipped as a potential chancellor, her closeness to Merkel may be the main stumbling block to winning widespread support in the CDU to succeed her.
Age: 62 Role: Merkel victimMerz, who once led the CDU/CSU caucus in parliament, was one of the many rivals cast aside by Merkel in her rise to power. This may be his chance to return to the scene. Since leaving politics, Merz has worked in finance and is well liked in the business wing of the party. Bild reported that he’s already lining up to be a candidate at the party conference in December.