Merkel looks to Africa to cement a legacy shaped by migration

Cheryl Sanders
November 3, 2018

German conservative Friedrich Merz set out an unapologetically pro-business stall for his candidacy to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as leader of the Christian Democrats (CDU), describing himself as a reform-minded pro-European. "At the federal election in 2021, I will not stand", she added.

The chancellor's announcement came a day after Merkel's conservatives suffered serious losses in a state election in Hesse, tumbling by 11 percentage points since 2013 to 27 percent of the vote.

Oettinger said that she enjoys trust "from Sophia to Lisbon, from Dublin to Athens".

Manfred Weber, Germany's candidate to be the European People's Party (EPP) lead candidate to replace European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, said Merkel's decision could free her to adopt a more visionary agenda for Europe.

Merkel - whose familiar face would be on a Mount Rushmore of contemporary European leaders if one were carved - succumbed to political reality after several poor showings in state elections that showed voters moving to alternative parties on either side of her center-right Christian Democrats.

Berlin hopes Germany's manufacturing-based economy, which drove Eastern Europe's rapid economic growth after the 1989 collapse of Communism, could turn things round. I see it as an attempt to give her own party and the country some time to enter into an important and very complex phase of transition. But the election in Hesse was one more sign of the CDU's ongoing struggle to retain its influence.

Regardless of how history will view her, in political terms, Merkel miscalculated - the anti-immigration backlash was stronger than she thought, straining her governing coalition and creating oxygen for the far-right. Neither would she seek a new mandate as Germany's leader.

Over the past years, she had consistently and publicly ruled out remaining on as chancellor without holding party leadership, criticizing the weak position it would put her in.

The Capital Economics consultancy said her announcement was bad timing given the major row that has just broken out over Italy's big-spending budget. The results reflect those of the Bavarian elections held on October 14, as well as last year's general election, after which Merkel barely eked out a coalition government with the Social Democrats (SPD).

Merz is competing for the party leadership against Merkel ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, who is now the CDU's general secretary and in charge of day-to-day political strategy; and Health Minister Jens Spahn, 38, a sometime Merkel critic who has talked tough on migration and also stands for a more right-wing approach.

After a drubbing at two regional polls in as many weeks, the SPD has signalled it may walk away if Merkel's centre-right alliance of CDU and Bavarian allies CSU fails to meet its demands.

If Merz or Spahn were nevertheless to prevail, it would be hard for Merkel to serve out her term as chancellor until 2021. That could pressure party leader Andrea Nahles to abandon the coalition with Merkel. Her successor at the top of the party will nearly certainly also become the CDU's next candidate for the chancellery.

"Nothing will happen before the end of the year and probably nothing will take place until the European elections", Rappolt said.

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