Merkel’s successor is a risk-taker and a deal-maker

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer might have a testing transition ‘co-habitating’ with Merkel

Nerves of steel: new CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

Nerves of steel: new CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

 

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was just 19 when she joined the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in 1981. Holding back tears on Friday, she admitted never imagining she would one day head the party.

Before she married and acquired her tongue-twisting, double-barrel surname, the woman known universally as AKK planned to be a teacher. Plan B: midwife.

Now the eighth CDU leader will require all the skills required for those two jobs, and much more besides.

Since 2000 Germany’s ruling centre-right party has been headed by a childless East German Protestant. Now the reins are controlled by a Catholic mother from Saarland, on the French-Luxembourg border, whose husband of 34 years quit his job as a mining engineer to raise their three children.

AKK entered state politics in 1999, becoming Germany’s first-ever interior minister, followed by terms as education and labour. After taking over as Saar state premier in 2011, she demonstrated her strong nerves by dumping a dysfunctional coalition partner and calling a snap election.

Shocked and impressed

Angela Merkel, equally shocked and impressed by AKK’s risk-taking, lured her to Berlin last February as CDU secretary general and heir apparent.

For years the new CDU leader was dubbed Angela Merkel 2.0, given their similar no-nonsense appearance and preference for compromise over ego-driven politics.

But the new CDU leader has distanced herself during the leadership race by taking tougher law-and-order positions, particularly on migration.

In favour of abortion restrictions and opposed to marriage equality, she has to balance demands for root-and-branch CDU reform with Merkel’s wish to see out her term as chancellor to 2021.

With the government head’s star sinking, and the CDU leader’s rising, interesting months of co-habitation lie ahead in Berlin as the two women work out who is cook and who is waitress.

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