Q&A: How will Angela Merkel’s successor as CDU leader be chosen?

In total 12 people running but a close race likely between Kramp-Karrenbauer and Merz

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) candidate for the party chair Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer getting her portrait taken. AKK, as she is known,  is Angela Merkel’s choice as successor. File photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) candidate for the party chair Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer getting her portrait taken. AKK, as she is known, is Angela Merkel’s choice as successor. File photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

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What is happening on Friday in Hamburg?

After 18 years, Angela Merkel is standing down as leader of Germany’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) (but staying on as chancellor) and delegates are electing a new party chair.

Why is that important?

Because the next CDU leader will be involved in government politics and could be Germany’s next chancellor, influencing European politics like no other.

Who is in the running?

In total 12 people but we are expecting a close race between: Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (known to all as AKK), the continuity centrist candidate, who is Merkel’s choice as successor; and Friedrich Merz, a conservative-liberal reformer with appeal for those suffering Merkel fatigue.

Who is favourite to win?

We don’t know. In eight regional conferences, Merz attracted energetic applause and standing ovations, particularly in the west – from where he hails. AKK is ahead in polls of party members, but they will not choose the new leader.

Who will?

Some 1,001 delegates from 17 regional parties (one for each federal state and one in Brussels). Weighted by local party membership, Germany’s most populous western state, North Rhine-Westphalia, sends 296 delegates to Hamburg – more than twice the entire 133 delegates from the eastern German states combined.

Who are the delegates?

Bundestag and state parliamentarians, local councillors and other party members. The winner needs to secure at least half of all delegate votes. Failing that, a run-off takes place between the two top candidates. That brings a wild card into play: who can win over delegates supporting the likely third-place candidate, conservative-liberal Jens Spahn?

How do delegates decide how to vote?

It’s a secret ballot and, theoretically, all delegates are free to make up their mind on the day, including after the candidates make their final speeches. Unlike previous races few regional party leaders – given this tight race – have made a recommendation, at least not officially.

Which new CDU leader is best for Europe, Ireland and its Brexit priorities?

That lies in the stars. While Brexit convulses the British parliament, it was barely mentioned in the CDU regional conferences. But AKK, born and raised in Saarland near the French/Luxembourg border, has Europe in her bones. As a close confidante of Angela Merkel she favours a similar low-key, ego-free style and probably offers the fewest surprises as new CDU leader. The election of Friedrich Merz, an old Merkel rival, could shake up Berlin’s engagement with Europe and shatter the chancellor’s hopes of staying on until 2021.

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