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Unity dilemma for Merkel's prodigy

By Chen Yingqun | China Daily | Updated: 2018-12-11 09:19

German Chancellor Angela Merkel applauds Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer after her election as the new CDU leader at the party conference in Hamburg, Germany, on Friday. [Photo/Agencies]

CDU's new chief seen as keeper of the flame, but healing wounds will be major task

Maintaining stability and erasing divergences within Germany's Christian Democratic Union will be a major and difficult task for its new leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, experts said.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, was elected by CDU delegates to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel as party leader on Friday, making her the front-runner to become the next chancellor of Germany, the biggest economy in Europe.

She won a narrow victory over the more conservative Friedrich Merz in a runoff. Health Minister Jens Spahn, also a more conservative candidate, was knocked out in the first round.

Cui Hongjian, director of the Department for European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said that the election results showed that most people inside the CDU still want to maintain stability and a continuity of policies, as Kramp-Karrenbauer is viewed as a keeper of the flame and similar to Merkel, with an even temper and middle-of-the-road policies.

Kramp-Karrenbauer's victory also means that Merkel could realize her stated goal of completing her fourth term in 2021 and then leaving politics.

"However, a narrow win showed that her support is still limited and how to maintain stability and erase divergences within the party will be a major task for her," he said.

Kramp-Karrenbauer will have to make sure that the current policies favored by the majority are carried out properly. For those that have raised disagreements, she will have to find ways to make changes and settle differing views, he added.

Zhu Yufang, a researcher on German studies at the Tongji University, said that it is rare in CDU's history to have three candidates running for the leader's position. The competition this time was fierce, which showed that there are clear splits over its future development.

"Although the election is completed, the divisions will not be easily eliminated, instead it will probably become more fierce in the future," he said.

One of the deepest divisions within is over migrant policy.

Merkel, 64, decided in October to quit the leadership of the CDU after a series of losses in regional elections, as her 2015 open-door approach to migration eroded her popularity. She aims to stay on as chancellor until the next federal vote in 2021.

Cui said that on refugee issues, Kramp-Karrenbauer's policies are similar to those of Merkel's, but if she wants to win more support within the party, she will definitely need to make changes on this issue.

"The refugee issue is a negative legacy from Merkel, as the policies have deviated from the views of the German people, and has also triggered a certain degree of differentiations within the European Union," he said.

As Kramp-Karrenbauer's personal political influence and experiences still need to be solidified, she is also likely to meet more pressures than her predecessor, and will have to spend more energy balancing different voices within the party and the government.

Migrant issues

Germany' role in the European Union issues, such as the reforms of the Eurozone and European integration, is also a wait-and-see, he said.

On Sunday, Kramp-Karrenbauer outlined plans to change the party's migrant policies before next year's European election, signaling that she could break with her mentor Merkel's liberal approach.

"I want to convene a 'workshop discussion' on migration and security with experts and critics of migrant and refugee policies to work on concrete improvements," she said. "Our program for the European election will build on these results."

Kramp-Karrenbauer also sought to bind the party together by promoting a rival's ally to a key post on Saturday. She proposed Paul Ziemiak, head of the Junge Union, the conservatives' youth wing, to replace her as CDU secretary-general - a role in which he will organize the party, election campaigns and congresses, as well as supporting her.

Reuters contributed to this story.

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