Germany’s Christian Democrats are electing a new president on Saturday with the aim of uniting their Conservative party behind a new leader they hope can succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor when she resigns following federal elections in September.
At stake is the leadership of Europe’s largest economy in the era of Merkel, who has vowed not to run again after becoming Europe’s dominant leader since taking office in 2005 and proving a winner with German voters.
The new CDU leader is elected by 1,001 delegates at a digital congress. According to tradition, the leader is usually – but not always – the Chancellor’s candidate for the CDU’s “Union” with his Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).
Centrist Armin Laschet, arch-conservative Friedrich Merz and expert on foreign policy Norbert Roettgen compete for CDU leadership.
Opinion polls show that Markus Soeder, the CSU leader, is the voters’ conservative choice. Some CDU legislators want the dynamic Minister of Health Jens Spahn to go to the Chancellor, even though he has supported Laschet for the party leadership.
The CDU elects new leader in key vote for Merkel’s legacy
The candidates all contrast with Merkel
The three declared CDU candidates all stand in contrast to Merkel.
Roettgen, 55, the eloquent chairman of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, wants Germany to take a stronger stance with Russia and China. Merz, 65, has turned his attention to the policies of the European Central Bank and is less diplomatic. Laschet, 59, who has polished his international profile, complains that Berlin has taken “too long to react” to French demands for reform of the European Union.
Roettgen has suggested that if he is elected CDU leader, he can support Soeder, the Bavarian premier, to run as a candidate for their alliance.
Soeder, 54, has shifted from the right to the moderately late. He plays nicely about his ambitions – “My place is in Bavaria” has been his repeated chorus.
Carsten Nickel at Teneo, a political risk adviser, said Soeder’s skilful move toward the center could make him the ideal candidate to lead a coalition with ecologist Green.
“But of course, the real challenges will arise when liberal and conservative demands collide,” Nickel added.