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Merkel to tap rumoured successor for top party role

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German Chancellor and leader of Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel (C), the State Premier of the southwestern federal state of Saarland Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and CDU secretary-general Peter Tauber arrive at the CDU headquarters in Berlin on February 19, 2018. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is expected to become new secretary-general of the CDU, as media reported on February 19, 2018, one day after party sources had said that Peter Tauber will step down from this post. / AFP PHOTO / Tobias SCHWARZ

The popular female premier of tiny Saarland state is set to take over as secretary general of Angela Merkel’s conservative party, sources said Monday, fuelling speculation the chancellor is lining up her potential successor.

Merkel is expected to tap close confidante Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 55, to take the reins from ally Peter Tauber, who at the weekend said he was stepping down for health reasons.

The announcement will come at a meeting of top brass from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) on Monday, sources close to the party told AFP.

The star of Kramp-Karrenbauer, also known as AKK, has been on the rise since her re-election last year. She also played a key role in Merkel’s tough coalition negotiations with the centre-left Social Democrats.

“And so Merkel and Kramp-Karrenbauer send the first clear signal in the debate about Merkel’s succession in four years’ time at the latest,” the Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote.

The daily said the two women agreed “months ago” that AKK should take over from Tauber, who reportedly indicated even before September’s general election that he wanted to step down over his struggles with an intestinal illness.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, dubbed the “Merkel of Saarland” by German media, is expected to be formally appointed at a CDU congress on February 26.

The new role would likely mean she will give up the Saarland premiership she has held since 2011, according to DPA news agency.

The change-over comes as Merkel, in power for over 12 years, is under fire within her party over the concessions she made to seal another loveless “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats (SPD) — with the loss of the powerful finance ministry portfolio a particularly bitter blow.

By appointing the up-and-coming AKK to a top CDU role, Merkel is in part responding to critics who have been calling for fresh faces to reinvigorate the party after its disappointing showing in September’s general election.

Unpretentious
As the CDU’s new secretary-general, Kramp-Karrenbauer would be following in the footsteps of Merkel who held the position from 1998 to 2000 before becoming chancellor in 2005.

AKK is described as a pragmatic and unpretentious politician seen as a safe choice to preserve Merkel’s legacy.

But “to interpret her as a simple copy of Merkel would be a misunderstanding,” Die Welt newspaper commented.

A staunch Catholic, AKK could also appeal to the more conservative wing of the CDU, which has accused Merkel of undermining the party’s traditional values.

A mother-of-three who has been a mainstay in local politics for over three decades, AKK has climbed steadily up the ranks.

“There’s not a task you can’t trust Annegret with,” the CDU’s then-Saarland premier Peter Mueller said in 2000 when AKK became Germany’s first woman to be named state interior minister.

Final hurdle
Kramp-Karrenbauer first caught the national spotlight last March, when she stormed to victory in a state poll seen as a test of Germans’ mood just months ahead of September’s nationwide polls.

After new SPD leader Martin Schulz appeared to pose a real challenge to Merkel in early 2017, AKK’s effortless re-election was taken as the first sign that the CDU had nothing to fear.

Merkel herself presented AKK with a bouquet of flowers after voters returned the state premier to power with 41 percent of the vote.

For Schulz, it marked the beginning of a downward spiral that saw him lead the SPD to its worst score in decades in the general election.

He stepped down as SPD chief last week, just days after he clinched the coalition agreement with Merkel that has divided the centre-left party.

The hard-fought coalition pact must now be approved by the SPD’s 460,000 members, with the result of the postal ballot expected on March 4.

The outcome is considered wide open as the SPD’s youth and left wings are fiercely opposed to another term governing in Merkel’s shadow.


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