In an exclusive interview with DW, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the new leader of Germany's Christian Democrats (CDU), has said that she wants Angela Merkel to see out her remaining three years as chancellor.
The new head of Germany's Christian Democrats (CDU), Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, spoke to DW shortly after the conclusion of the party's conference. DW asked her if she still thinks that Merkel will remain in office for the remaining three years of her term.
On becoming chancellor: Kramp-Karrenbauer said: "We have a federal government that has been elected for this legislative period. Angela Merkel has said she's available to see out the legislative period. And the party conference yesterday showed very clearly that that's what members wish — and it is also my personal wish.
"And I also see it as my task as the leader of the ruling party to ensure that this government has the stability it needs to fulfill its electoral mandate."
AfD: Next year, several key state elections will take place in eastern Germany. The nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) has been particularly successful in the east. DW asked, "How are you hoping to win back these voters?"
"With our own strength," Kramp-Karrenbauer replied. "First, we're not going to follow what the other parties are doing, even if these state election campaigns are admittedly not going to be easy. Instead we want to build our power there as the CDU.
"There are many regional topics, many areas where we perform well. In states where we are the opposition, there's a lot of justified criticism towards those governing. There will certainly also be more general topics — like social issues and pensions. We'll have to organize ourselves well. But like I said, our main aim is to win people over with our own strength — and in such a way that voters come back to us."
Narrow victory: Kramp-Karrenbauer scored just 51 percent in a second-round runoff against her main rival, the businessman and traditional conservative Friedrich Merz. The third candidate, Jens Spahn, was eliminated in the first round.
Many in her party would have wanted the CDU to become more conservative to head off populist challengers. DW asked her what she is offering to those who are feeling let down.
"The party conference has indeed been polarized on an individual level. But it was clear beforehand that the candidates also have similar views," Kramp-Karrenbauer told DW. "For instance, like Friedrich Merz and Jens Spahn, I believe the state needs to be able to enforce the rule of law. I learned that during my time as state interior minister. And it's something we want to get started on in discussions on migration and domestic security next spring."
Riots in France: People are fighting against social inequality in France. Can you learn anything for Germany from that?
"I think Germany is in a different situation, because through the social market economy and our system of social partnership, we have a system where many issues and conflicts are always discussed and settled in orderly structures. And I very much hope that we in Germany can preserve the peace, the social peace that we have because of this.
"Because whether it's in France or in other states — you can see how problematic it is when agreed-upon rules are broken and when conflicts — even when they are justified — turn violent."
Who is Kramp-Karrenbauer: Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer won the race to succeed Merkel as party leader after the latter's 18 years at the CDU helm. AKK — as she's known for short — formerly served as both interior minister and state premier of the southwestern state of Saarland. She headed a CDU-SPD coalition there before stepping down to become the CDU's general secretary. She is considered a moderate who would continue Merkel's centrist policies.
Unlikely rise: She led the CDU to a surprisingly easy victory in the 2017 Saarland state election with 40.7 percent of the vote. At the time, chancellor candidate Martin Schulz from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was riding high in public opinion polls. Almost overnight, AKK became a national political player after diverting the "Schulz train" firmly off the rails.
What's her priority? As party leader, the first job for AKK is to unite the embattled CDU, and to help steady its ruling coalition with the center-left SPD. The awkward alliance has come close to collapse several times since being formed in March.
New general secretary: On Saturday, CDU delegates elected 33-year-old Paul Ziemiak, head of the Junge Union, the conservatives' youth wing, to replace Kramp-Karrenbauer as CDU general secretary. His new role is managing the party and overseeing election campaigns.
"Now the task is to renew the party with a clear course and clear communication," Ziemiak said. "Let's believe together and let's win together!"
The CDU party lost a lot of support to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in last September's federal election and is also losing support to the Greens, who are now running second in national polls behind the Christian Democrats.
In October, the CDU lost over 10 percentage points in a state election in Hesse. Merkel announced she would stand down as party leader after that damaging result.