Merkel era is over, says 'heir'
Kramp-Karrenbauer launches bid for leadership of CDU party
The woman widely seen as Angela Merkel's chosen heir launched her campaign to succeed her as party leader yesterday by pledging a new era in German politics.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told a press conference in Berlin she will work to restore confidence and trust in the Christian Democrat party (CDU) if chosen as leader.
"This is the end of an era. Angela Merkel has made way for a new chapter in the history of the CDU," she said.
The 56-year-old Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer is one of three main candidates to succeed Ms Merkel, who is stepping down as party leader in December but wants to stay on as chancellor until 2021.
Popularly known as "mini-Merkel" or AKK, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer is the contender closest to the chancellor in policy and style - but was at pains yesterday to portray herself as more than the continuity candidate.
"Ms Merkel has shaped the CDU. Such an era cannot go on forever, but equally it cannot be undone," she said. "Every time has its challenges, and the successor is always standing on the shoulders of her predecessor."
It was a carefully crafted pitch for the support of CDU delegates who do not want to overturn the successes of the Merkel era.
Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer's main competitors for the leadership are both seen as more likely to take the party in a new direction: Friedrich Merz is an old rival of the chancellor, while Jens Spahn is one of her most outspoken critics.
"We do not need to make the CDU great again, because it already is," she said. But she acknowledged the struggles of the past year, which have seen sweeping losses for the party in national and regional elections.
"I have felt the party's frustration. We have been through a leaden time in recent months," she said.
Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer was initially seen as the favourite to succeed Ms Merkel but she appeared to slip back following Mr Merz's surprise candidacy. Initial polls have found him ahead with the general public.
But Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer said she was not going to run a "ruinous competition" campaign against the other candidates, and pledged to include them in the party's future if she wins.
In a pitch likely to go down well with the conference delegates who will elect the next leader, she said she wanted to make the party's a stronger voice in determining policy, and not just a cheerleader for the government.
She identified three main themes for her campaign: security, social cohesion, and the economy. On security she said the key question was how to restore confidence in the state.
The answer had to come in a European context, she said, because "we live in an open Europe", but she warned: "We will not win confidence in our domestic security by making loud noises" - a clear broadside against the populist right.
She pledged to modernise Germany's economy, and accelerate digitalisation, an area in which the country is widely seen as lagging behind its competitors.
On social cohesion, she said: "We need a common commitment that holds us together," and spoke of finding answers in the CDU's Christian values.
Mr Spahn has sought to make migration and Ms Merkel's "open-door" refugee policy of 2015 the central issue of the campaign. Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer rejected that, saying: "Migration is an issue that concerns people. But it's not the number one issue. What happened in 2015 is a reality, a fact that cannot and will not be undone. But it must not be repeated."