A fourth candidacy by Chancellor Angela Merkel looks likely in 2017, judging by signals from her Bavarian sister party. Horst Seehofer has said their two parties can "withstand" the differences between them.
German voters heard rhetorical harmony from leading Bavarian conservatives on Saturday in apparent endorsements for another Merkel candidacy for her Christian Democrats (CDU) and Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU).
Merkel's own CDU general secretary Peter Tauber told the Funke Media Group that it was the "wish of many" that Merkel make herself available for another term, her fourth since 2005.
Germany, which is due to elect its next Bundestag parliament in September 2017, has for weeks been preoccupied with candidacy speculation - also among its center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who remain undecided on who to put up front.
Seehofer: Differences can be overcome
Bavaria's State Premier Horst Seehofer (pictured above, at left), who since last year has railed against Merkel's welcoming "We can do this" policy on refugees and instead insisted on an annual intake limit of 200,000 people, told news magazine "Der Spiegel" on Saturday that the two had "come closer on many points in recent weeks."
"If there are further differences, then we can withstand that," said the CSU party chairman, referring to a deal dating back to 1949 that keeps the CSU in Bavaria and the CDU in the rest of the country.
Seehofer's softening of stance was echoed by CSU deputy chairman and European parliamentarian Manfred Weber, who told "Der Spiegel" that "CDU and CSU are today up to 95 percent united on migration policy. The sole exception is the upper limit."
"Angela Merkel is our candidate. On that there can be no doubt," Weber added.
The CSU still wanted the refugee upper limit anchored in next year's manifesto, said Weber, but added: "It doesn't help to argue about it with the CDU."
Setting the stage
Seehofer and Weber's remarks preceded the CSU's annual conference, due in Munich in early November.
The "Süddeutsche Zeitung" newspaper reported early this week that for first time since 2005, the CSU was unlikely to invite Merkel to its annual conference. Last year, Seehofer gave her a verbal rebuff in front of Bavarian delegates.
The German news agency dpa said Seehofer feared that a similar Merkel presence in Munich next month would end in uproar among the 1,000 CSU faithful, many grassroots delegates.
Possibilities were a media convention in Munich next Tuesday, a conference on migration in Bonn on November 2, a CDU executive conference in Berlin on November 20 and the CDU's annual conference in Essen in early December.
Unlike the CSU, those attending the CDU event would be mainly "professionals" - political mandate-holders and functionaries.
That's why for days the attempt has been made to explain to the public why Seehofer would not be inviting Merkel, said dpa, quoting CDU/CSU sources.
Among Social Democrats, EU Parliament President Martin Schulz was the focus of media speculation over the past week. A voter survey put him slightly in front of SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel, who is vice chancellor in Merkel's current coalition.
A senior SPD figure, Rhineland-Palatinate State Premier Malu Dreyer said the SPD's Gabriel had the first call and the party candidate would be picked in early 2017.
The SPD was in the spotlight last Tuesday when numerous members attended joint exploratory talks in Berlin with the opposition Greens and Left Party.