Merkel 'anoints chosen successor' with party role
In a move widely seen as anointing her chosen successor, Angela Merkel yesterday promoted one of her key lieutenants to a pivotal role as chairman of her Christian Democrat party (CDU).
The appointment puts Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in pole position to take control of the party when Mrs Merkel eventually steps down or is forced from office.
Popularly known as "mini-Merkel", Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer has long been seen as the chancellor's preferred successor.
But yesterday's move is the first sign that Ms Merkel is now actively planning for the succession even as rival candidates begin to circle.
The appointment of the loyalist Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer was also a signal that Ms Merkel does not intend to give any ground to her critics within the party amid rumblings of discontent over the concessions she made to secure a new coalition deal. "We can rely on each other, even if we each have our own opinions," Ms Merkel said as she announced Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer's appointment.
The decision to make her party chairman has resonance because it was from the same office that Ms Merkel launched her own successful bid to become CDU leader 18 years ago.
Ms Merkel had to fill the position after current party chairman Peter Tauber announced he was stepping down because of ill-health. But she said it was Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer who came to her and suggested the move. "I was impressed by the idea," Ms Merkel added.
Although Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer has a formidable record as an election campaigner, all her experience so far has been in regional politics in her home state of Saarland, where she is currently prime minister.
Ms Merkel has been thought to want to give her protegée a national role for some time in order to increase her profile. But with the CDU reduced to only six ministries in the new coalition deal, her options to bring Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer into the cabinet were limited.
Technically the appointment still has to be confirmed in a vote next week, but for the party to defy Ms Merkel over the chairmanship - a non-cabinet role - would be unheard of.
Accepting the nomination, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer promised an overhaul of the party's policies. "The discussion of the programme is open to everyone in the party, from the grassroots to the top," she said.
Like her mentor, Ms Kramp- Karrenbauer has a reputation as a pragmatist not wedded to any particular ideology, though she has taken a stance against gay marriage. She has distanced herself from Ms Merkel's controverisal refugee policy, but not as stridently as some her rivals - a move that may have contributed to her appointment.
Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer said she had not taken the decision to accept the role easily. It is not without risk as it will cut her off from her power base in Saarland and will not give her the ministerial experience of running a department.