Steady as she goes: Merkel 2.0 takes center stage in Germany

Candidates hoping to succeed Angela Merkel as leader of her CDU party have sparked outrage in Germany with controversial proposals on migration as they scramble to distance themselves from her liberal refugee policy. (AFP)
Updated 07 December 2018
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Steady as she goes: Merkel 2.0 takes center stage in Germany

  • Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as party leader
  • Merkel’s decision to stand down as leader of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is part of her slow, stage-managed exit from German politics

HAMBURG: Germany’s Christian Democrats have played it safe. By opting for Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as party leader, they have voted for a centrist who is long on party unity and short on major policy initiatives.
Merkel’s decision to stand down as leader of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is part of her slow, stage-managed exit from German politics and in Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, the party has chosen a successor from the same safety-first mold.
Dubbed “Merkel 2.0” by opposition parties, Kramp-Karrenbauer was the continuity candidate in the leadership campaign, less bold in her policy proposals than rival Friedrich Merz.
“The CDU has opted for centrist continuity. And it let Merkel have her way, one more time,” said Carsten Nickel, managing director at political consultancy Teneo. “Today’s close result shows: the party is as split as German society.”
After her narrow victory — by 517 votes to 482 — over Merz, Kramp-Karrenbauer’s first priority is to unite the CDU after a series of electoral setbacks that threaten its role as Germany’s leading “Volkspartei,” or big popular party.
In a short speech to accept the party leadership, she called for “all the factions, all members, everyone who carries responsibility to move forward with the goal that we share — to remain the big Volkspartei of the center.”
Her first act as leader was to invite her two rivals to take the congress stage with her in a show of party unity.
Kramp-Karrenbauer has little time to waste.
An election in Bremen next May is the first of four regional votes next year. In October, the CDU lost over 10 percentage points in another state election, in Hesse. Merkel announced she would stand down as party leader after that damaging result.
After a robust campaign for the CDU leadership, Kramp-Karrenbauer must now try to engineer a rebound in next year’s state votes — a tough task that will soak up her time and energy and leave her little bandwidth for fresh policy initiatives.
Teneo’s Nickel said the close leadership result “means continuity in Europe: beyond Merkel’s personal leadership in the Council, don’t expect bold initiatives from Berlin. The CDU will continue to be busy with itself.”

German interests
Kramp-Karrenbauer is not prone to bold policy moves anyway.
During the leadership campaign, she took more a cautious stance on the future of Europe than Merz, who said Germany should “contribute more” to the European Union as it benefits from a euro that is “too weak for our economy.”
Last month, Kramp-Karrenbauer told a business conference: “With every wish to take Europe forward with a German-French nucleus, the proposals must always fit with German interests.”
She said Europe must move toward a banking union, “but first the risks must be minimized so that it is acceptable in German interests as well.”
Her great strength is her record as former state premier in Saarland, where she led an experimental broad coalition with the Greens and pro-business Free Democrats — alliance-building skills useful in Germany’s fractured political landscape.
That ability to build bridges clinched her the CDU top job.
“There is a feeling that we are strengthened,” delegate Stephan Toscani said after Friday’s leadership vote. “There is a willingness to pull together now. I am sure that Merkel will remain chancellor right through her term.”
Merkel plans to stay on as chancellor until the next federal election, due by October 2021. The CDU’s election of Kramp-Karrenbauer makes that scenario more likely. Co-habiting with Merz, an old rival, would have proven harder for Merkel.
The risk for Kramp-Karrenbauer is that opposition parties seize on her similarities to Merkel, whose authority has waned since her divisive decision in 2015 to keep German borders open to refugees fleeing war in the Middle East.
“Kramp-Karrenbauer is a continuation of Merkel with other means,” said Alexander Gauland, co-leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany, which surged into the Bundestag for the first time last year on a wave of discontent with Merkel.
“She supported the refugee policy and will not correct it.” 


Version of PM May’s deal can get through parliament: Hunt

Updated 15 December 2018
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Version of PM May’s deal can get through parliament: Hunt

  • May pulled a vote on her deal this week after acknowledging it would be heavily defeated over concerns about the divorce agreement’s “backstop”

LONDON: Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Saturday that the British parliament could back Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal if lawmakers received assurances from the European Union, but warned that a no deal Brexit was still on the table.
May pulled a vote on her deal this week after acknowledging it would be heavily defeated over concerns about the divorce agreement’s “backstop,” an insurance policy designed to avoid any hard land border for Ireland but which critics say could bind Britain to EU rules indefinitely.
“When the dust has settled, the only way we’re going to get this through the House of Commons ... is to have a version of the deal that the government has negotiated,” Hunt told BBC radio.
Following a summit in Brussels on Friday, May said it was possible that the EU could give further guarantees that the backstop would be temporary although the bloc’s other 27 leaders told her they would not renegotiate the treaty.
Hunt said the EU was likely to make concessions to avoid Britain leaving without any deal, a scenario that both sides say would be highly damaging for business and their economies.
“The EU cannot be sure that if they choose not to be helpful and flexible ... that we would not end up with no deal,” Hunt said. “We cannot in these negotiations take no deal off the table. I don’t think the EU could be remotely sure that if we don’t find a way through this we wouldn’t end up with no deal.”
The Times newspaper reported on Saturday that most of May’s senior ministerial team thought her deal was dead and were discussing a range of options including a second referendum.
“Brexit is in danger of getting stuck – and that is something that should worry us all,” pensions minister Amber Rudd wrote in the Daily Mail newspaper.
“If MPs (lawmakers) dig in against the Prime Minister’s deal and then hunker down in their different corners, none with a majority, the country will face serious trouble.”