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Germany

CDU Meet for Talks

Germany's opposition Christian Democrats meet for a party congress on Sunday. Talks are expected to be dominated by who Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's key competitor in next year's general election will be.

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Could Christian Democrats' Chairwoman Angela Merkel be Germany's next Chancellor?

The conservatives insist the congress in Dresden has nothing to do with the topic. But, even party leader Angela Merkel admits that it is likely to be a burning question at the congress despite the agenda being officially topped by the issue of immigration.

"It's only natural that every delegate will be thinking about the issue. That's obvious. But we will decide on our chancellor candidate together at the start of 2002," Merkel is reported to have said.

Commentators say the congress will be Merkel's big chance to establish herself as a candidate ahead of her main rivals: Edmund Stoiber, head of the CDU's Bavarian allies the Christian Social Union, and former CDU leader Wolfgang Schäuble.

Merkel is the first woman to lead a major party in Germany's history. She originates from east Germany and was brought in to re-establish faith in the party after the Helmut Kohl scandal.

However, her position has been weakened by election losses and doubts about her leadership abilities. There has been speculation the party might bypass Merkel as chancellor candidate in favour of Stoiber.

In an Emnid survey for a German telelvision station, 51 percent of conservative voters said they backed Stoiber, compared to 24 percent for Merkel and 21 percent for Schäuble.

"It's all about choosing the right person who can lead the conservatives to victory at the right time. It's about core voters and floating voters. I'm pleased that Edmund Stoiber is doing so well in the polls," Merkel said in a recent interview referring to the polls.

Immigration hot topic

Immigration is likely to be a key topic at the congress. The CDU will also focus on social and labour market policies. This as unemployment edges closer to the staggering four-million mark.

Schröder wants to pass legislation which will allow a controlled stream of immigrants into the country this year. This is to offset Germany's falling population and to keep the sensitive issue out of the spotlight in the run-up to federal elections in September next year.

Merkel sought to play down signs of division among the conservatives over what line to take on immigration. "We agree Germany needs the best foreign experts. But our measure is successful integration into our society," she said.

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