Germany avoids political winds of change after 'mini-Merkel' win

  • The ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, known as 'AKK', as the new leader of the party, replacing Chancellor Angela Merkel.
  • The leadership race showcased the divide inside the party between more conservative circles and those who wanted continuity.
  • AKK, as she is widely called, stands for continuity.
 German Chancellor and leader of the German Christian Democrats (CDU) Angela Merkel (R) chats with CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer prior to a meeting of the CDU leadership the day after elections in the state of Hesse on October 29, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. 
Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images
 German Chancellor and leader of the German Christian Democrats (CDU) Angela Merkel (R) chats with CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer prior to a meeting of the CDU leadership the day after elections in the state of Hesse on October 29, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. 

On Friday, delegates from the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in Hamburg elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, known as 'AKK', as the new leader of the party, replacing Chancellor Angela Merkel. The leadership race showcased the divide inside the party between more conservative circles and those who wanted continuity.

AKK, as she is widely called, stands for continuity and she will safeguard the legacy of Angela Merkel, while opposing candidate Friedrich Merz, who garnered 48 percent of the votes, would have been a fresh wind calling for a more conservative profile of the party. Until the end, the outcome was too close to call.

The election of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer comes as a big relief to Merkel, who clearly seemed to be pleased by the outcome. She is a close ally of hers and her election might enable her to stay on as chancellor for the remaining time of her term, until 2021, without facing strong infighting from her own party.

Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer's rise through the rank to the top of Germany's biggest party puts her in pole position to succeed Merkel as chancellor. As she only entered the national political stage in February when she became the CDU's secretary general, she might need the coming years until new elections will come about, to raise her profile. While she rejects being called a "mini-Merkel", she has a very similar sober appearance and non-emotional approach when speaking in public.

Her election will most likely not trigger new elections next year, as the SPD, the Social Democratic Party that is in a coalition government with the CDU and its sister Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), will be happy to work together with her.

Friedrich Merz, the "law and order" and more conservative candidate, would have been a bitter pill to swallow for the SPD. But one should not forget when talking about the risk of new elections that the SPD, given their current low ratings, will avoid those at all costs as the outcome might marginalize them even further.

So what's the biggest takeaway from the change on leadership at the CDU? The big political earthquake was prevented with AKK as new party leader and the name of the game is "continuity" and not "a fresh start". Whether this will be the recipe to attract voters back from the populist, far-right Alternative for Germany party (the AfD) is not clear, as AKK will not move the party to a more conservative corner.

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