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Merkel's old party rival to head CDU

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-24 07:43

Christian Democratic Party (CDU) designated Chairman Friedrich Merz speaks during a virtual party congress at the party headquarters in Berlin, Germany, Jan 22, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

Friedrich Merz, a longtime critic of former German chancellor Angela Merkel during her leadership of the Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, vowed on Saturday to unite the party after he was elected its chairman.

The 66-year-old, the only candidate, and known in Germany as a staunch conservative, won 94.6 percent of the votes cast by the 980 party delegates who met via video link nearly four months after the party was defeated in national elections. Merz had won 62 percent of the votes in a party member survey in December.

Merz, who had failed twice in previous attempts to be the party leader, said he was "profoundly moved" by the party's support.

Speaking before the vote, he said the party has experienced turbulent times over the past three years, but he pledged a new start.

"This time now lies behind us," Merz said, adding that his election as CDU chief is a powerful signal for the renewal of the party.

"We have not lost our self-confidence-nor our political responsibility for our country," he said, referring to the CDU's defeat at the hands of the Social Democratic Party in the national elections.

The CDU will be a powerful opposition, Merz said. He accused the government of the new SPD Chancellor Olaf Scholz of not showing leadership in compulsory vaccination, inflation and peacekeeping.

The SPD governs in coalition with the Greens and Free Democratic Party after 16 years of Merkel as chancellor.

Women and the young

Merz vowed to rebuild the party to address "all the issues that our party feels are important". He said he would reach out to more women and young voters, which was one of Merkel's strengths.

Merz and Merkel were longtime rivals. Twenty years ago when she was CDU chairman she dropped him as president of the party's parliamentary group. He became a member of parliament in 1994, and even then he and Merkel belonged to different factions of the CDU.

Merz disappeared from the political scene in 2009 and pursued a life in the business and financial world, making a fortune by working for big corporations. He most recently served as head of the German branch of BlackRock, a major US investment company.

According to the news magazine Spiegel, Merz had been keen to invite Merkel for dinner on Saturday to defuse the tension between them but she turned him down.

Merz has been described as a staunch European and wants the European Union bloc to be economically, financially and strategically assertive toward big powers.

"A shift to the right was inevitable for the CDU after Merkel, so Friedrich Merz is just the manifestation of that," said Robin Brooks, chief economist of the Institute of International Finance, in a tweet on Saturday. "This may help neutralize the (extreme right) AfD and get the CDU votes, but will make it harder for Europe to continue on its path of ECB QE and-implicitly-debt mutualization," he said in reference to the European Central Bank quantitative easing.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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