A game well-played: Angela Merkel likely at the helm ‘til the end
December 10, 2018
By FTI Consulting
CDU leadership race plays into the hands of the Chancellor – all set for a stable transition of power in Germany
As things stand, Angela Merkel will boldly go where no German Chancellor has ever gone before: It’s her last term in office, and it looks as if she will stay in full control of the terms governing her own succession. That’s what really counts in the wake of the CDU convention that crowned a new party leader in the Northern city of Hamburg over the weekend.
An electrifying experiment
Germany’s CDU party – traditionally a somewhat boring club of mostly middle-aged males, basically around to solidify the party’s almost eternal hold on power – was electrified by Merkel’s announcement at the end of October that she was ready to relinquish the role of party chief after 18 years. The move was significant, as by CDU tradition the party leader is the natural candidate for the chancellorship.
What followed was an invigorating experiment, and one that the CDU has never seen in its history: Three strong candidates surfaced immediately and engaged into a lively and healthy competition, presenting themselves together over three weeks at local party conventions all over the country to prepare for the final countdown at the national gathering in Hamburg.
Contenders at a glance
One of them was Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (aka “AKK”), secretary general of the CDU, former prime minister of the state of Saarland, and clearly Merkel’s favourite for the post (although the Chancellor was shrewd enough never to voice her support all-too clearly). The second one was Friedrich Merz, a former CDU heavy-weight who had left politics altogether some 10 years ago to become a corporate lawyer after it had finally dawned on him that Merkel had beaten him on their long-standing rivalry. Merz was immediately dubbed the “Anti-Merkel”: the challenger who would un-do everything the Chancellor stood for if elected. And the third was Jens Spahn, by far the youngest at age 38, health minister in the present Merkel cabinet, and a modern conservative.
Alas, when the votes were counted on Friday, it was AKK who made the race in the end – narrowly, to be sure, but then again not all that narrow, with a lead of about 7 percentage points over Merz.
The lessons of Hamburg
Looking ahead, the result plays out well for Merkel: With AKK to step in her footsteps at the party helm, she will have what she needs to organize a smooth transition for the chancellorship: The two women are close enough to play out the game in a collaborative fashion, and AKK is clearly enough of her own person to change her party’s course towards a more conservative direction where it counts – on immigration and on matters of internal security, for example.
Preparations for a stable transition at the helm
The regular end of Merkel’s fourth term as chancellor will come in late 2021. So it’s safe to count on measures leading to the installation of AKK as chancellor from the end of 2020 on. Merkel will then be in a position to leave office of her own free will – and in the knowledge that the modernization she had forced onto her CDU will be sustained. The SPD, the junior partners of the Grand Coalition, might have it in their hands to alter the timeline and force an early end of the term. But why should they do it, at presently around 14 per cent approval rates?
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees.
With over 25 years’ experience in journalism, political communications, and consulting, Mr. Kothé advises companies seeking relevant impact with politics and politicians. He founded FTI Consulting’s public affairs practice in Berlin in 2010. Previously, he served as spokesperson for German Federal President Horst Köhler. He also headed the communications and media team of the German liberal party, FDP. Starting his career in journalism at the BBC’s World Service in London, Mr. Kothé has also worked as a senior parliamentary correspondent for Germany’s news channel n-tv.