Kramp-Karrenbauer liberates herself from Merkel era

Speech shows CDU leader betting Germans more restless for change than nostalgic

Party chairwoman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and chancellor Angela Merkel  at the CDU party congress in Leipzig: AKK believes  Germany has been treading water for too long. Photograph: Matthias Rietschel

Party chairwoman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and chancellor Angela Merkel at the CDU party congress in Leipzig: AKK believes Germany has been treading water for too long. Photograph: Matthias Rietschel

 

With a series of elegant swipes and sly digs, Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer liberated herself on Friday from her powerful predecessor and leading party rival.

In an ambivalent speech, the woman known to all as AKK said Germany could look back on 14 good years under Angela Merkel. But, now the country needs to move on from being Europe’s “fixer-upper” to its “future lab”.

In one way she was mourning the road not taken by the CDU at its last conference in Leipzig, back in 2003. Then, a young Merkel presented her party, then in opposition, with a radical, liberal reform agenda to yank Germany out of recession.

Centrist persona

Voters were unconvinced and, after the 2005 election, she barely squeaked into office. Lesson learned, Merkel abandoned any reform ambition and adopted instead a stable, centrist persona that served her – and Europe – well in the crisis years that followed.

As her predecessor’s reforms revived Germany’s economy, any capacity for real reform on her watch was swamped by the euro and refugee crises.

AKK’s speech on Friday was this: under CDU rule, Germany has been treading water for too long and is about to drown. On climate and e-mobility, Germany is hostage to its industrial past. On digitalisation – from patents to data infrastructure – Germany isn’t even at the races. 

Analogue hell

Germany’s state services – from tax returns to car registration – are stuck in a 1990s analogue hell. And looking outward, Germany is unsure how to defend its multilateral convictions or meet its allies’ rising military expectations.

AKK’s blunt bottom line to party delegates and to Germany: “I’m sick that we are always the slowest in Europe.”

She has hitched her fate as CDU leader – and chancellor hopeful – to a bet: that Germans are more restless than nostalgic for the dwindling Merkel era.

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