Frontrunners to succeed Merkel make pitch for women’s support

Surveys show Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Friedrich Merz are neck and neck

The three candidates for the CDU leadership, Friedrich Merz, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Jens Spahn. Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

The three candidates for the CDU leadership, Friedrich Merz, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Jens Spahn. Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

 

The two frontrunners to succeed Germany chancellor Angela Merkel as Christian Democrat (CDU) leader pitched for the support of women in the party on Friday after polling showed that views of Germany’s first female chancellor differed markedly by gender.

Whoever wins the contest to succeed her at next month’s party congress will be in pole position to become chancellor, and with surveys showing the two leading candidates neck-and-neck, every vote counts.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the party’s centrist general secretary who is seen as the continuity candidate, was the favourite of 35 per cent of CDU supporters polled for ZDF television.

Also pitching to the party’s women’s union in Friday’s hustings was Friedrich Merz, a businessman and lawyer who is returning to politics after 10 years in the private sector, most recently working for asset manager BlackRock in Germany.

He had the backing of 33 per cent, while health minister Jens Spahn was far behind on 7 per cent.

The female vote could be decisive, with recent polls showing that most female voters would like Dr Merkel to remain in office, while a majority of male voters would like to see the woman who has dominated European politics step down after 13 years.

“We need more women in the party,” said Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, reflecting that women made up barely a quarter of the party’s membership – a factor that could count against her given polling that shows she is more popular than Mr Merz among women.

“This is the end of the era,” Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer told reporters in Berlin this week. “We have to thank Angela Merkel for a great deal.

“My experience is . . . that one always stands on the shoulders of one’s predecessor,” she added, stressing the need for political stability in uncertain times.

On immigration, she said Germany needed “to work out a way for people here to feel at home – people who have lived here a long time and people who have arrived more recently”, with reference to the upheaval caused by Germany’s migrant crisis in 2015.

Economic left

Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer’s advantage over the other two candidates is that she has won an election – albeit in the small western state of Saarland – and served as state premier there. She is on the CDU’s left on economic policy, being a strong advocate of the minimum wage. Before the 2013 national election she suggested the top rate of tax be raised to 53 per cent.

But she is conservative on social issues, opposing advertising for abortions, and caused controversy in 2015 by saying allowing same-sex marriages could open the door to incest and polygamy.

Mr Merz, an economic liberal who enjoys the strong backing of Germany’s still male-dominated business community, also implied that the party should do more to bring in women, holding up the equal opportunities legislation that binds private companies as a possible model.

Whoever wins is expected to become the CDU’s candidate for chancellor at the next national election in 2021. Dr Merkel has said she plans to serve her fourth term in full, though there has been speculation this might be difficult if Mr Merz or Mr Spahn won. Both have said they would work with her.

Both acknowledged they would have work to do restoring a once dominant and broad-based “people’s party” that has been bruised by successive electoral setbacks.

“The CDU should remain one of perhaps two people’s parties in the republic,” Mr Merz said, insisting that the CDU needed to hold the political centre and recapture voters who had strayed to extremes like the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

The poll for ZDF, in which Mannheim-based Forschungsgruppe Wahlen questioned 1,200 people, said some 63 per cent were happy with Dr Merkel remaining as chancellor until 2021, while 34 per cent were not. – Reuters/Bloomberg