Germany: A Merkel ally takes over the reins of the CDU
On 7 December, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer beat Friedrich Merz and Jens Spahn in a close race to become the governing CDU’s new leader. The leadership contest—which was triggered by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s announcement that she would step aside as party leader following two poor election results for the government in Bavaria and Hesse—was the first genuine contest since 1971. The narrow victory for Kramp-Karrenbauer revealed a division within the ruling party after a string of poor elections following the 2015 refugee crisis. However, Kramp-Karrenbauer, colloquially referred to as AKK, is considered a close ally of Merkel and the CDU should thus largely continue the course set out under Merkel’s leadership. As a result, the election of AKK is good news for the grand coalition in Berlin as it is less likely that Merkel will be undermined by the party chief and forced to retire from office prematurely. AKK’s ascension to the top job should also bode well for the continued Franco-German cooperation in Europe, although her stance on the European Union is less certain.
Kramp-Karrenbauer is considered a moderate, backing the country’s minimum wage increase that was recently ratified by the government and set to come into effect on 1 January 2019, as well as higher taxation on high incomes. AKK, however, is considered more socially conservative than her predecessor; she has been outspoken against gay marriage and abortion, and also takes a tougher stance on immigration and refugee issues despite supporting Merkel’s open-door policy in 2015. Next year’s European Parliament and local elections will prove to be a test for both her longevity as party leader and her chancellorship aspirations. The bigger risk to the grand coalition arguably lies in the fate of the SPD in those elections, having performed poorly in 2017’s federal elections and subsequent local polls. Another poor showing could trigger the SPD to pull out of the government coalition, which would generate political uncertainty for Germany’s economy.