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Back me or sack me, CDU leader tells party

Rebecca Staudenmaier
November 22, 2019

CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has offered to quit her post if she does not have the backing of her party. This year's party congress comes amid tanking support as the party fights for its future after Merkel.

CDU party leader and defense minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the leader of Germany's ruling Christian Democrats (CDU), outlined her vision for the future of her embattled party in a rousing speech as she fought to defend her post from critics on Friday.

Some 1,000 CDU members have gathered in the eastern city of Leipzig for their annual party conference, which comes amid falling support in opinion polls and several poor state election results.

Main takeaways:

  • "We've had a difficult year — I'll admit that," Kramp-Karrenbauer said, looking at the drop in support for the CDU in recent elections in Germany's eastern states.
  • Putting her post as party leader on the line, she told party members: "If you are of the opinion that the Germany I want is not the one you want... then we should end it. Here, now and today."
  • "But if you're of the opinion that we should go this path together, then let's roll up our sleeves and get started," she said to a standing ovation.
  • Taking an indirect dig at her rival Friedrich Merz and other critics, she said criticizing Merkel's government and saying the party is doing everything wrong is "not a good campaigning strategy."
  • Digitalization was a particular focus, with the CDU leader advocating for creating a new Digitalization Ministry that would work on bringing Germany up to speed with other nations by improving internet and mobile networks.
  • Pushing for more aid and cooperation with countries in Africa, she said: "If we don't do it, then who will do it? Today we have to have solidarity with those who need our help."
  • She floated reintroducing mandatory civil service in Germany.
  • In a surprise move, rival Merz did not go after Kramp-Karrenbauer or her job in his speech, instead praising the CDU leader for her "brave, fighting and forward-looking" remarks.

Read more: What to watch for when Angela Merkel's conservatives meet

What's at stake?

The CDU is at a crossroads as it prepares for a future without Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will not run for reelection when her term ends in 2021.

Current party head Kramp-Karrenbauer has been seen as Merkel's possible successor but has been floundering in the polls and losing support as well within the party. She's facing a challenge from rival Friedrich Merz, but still has a year left in her term.

The party is also suffering from a unity issue, with the party's conservative and more centrist camps fighting for control over the future direction of the party.

Party members will also debate a range of issues, including the role Chinese firm Huawei could play in building Germany's future 5G network, a headscarf ban for young girls, whether German flags should fly outside of schools, as well as a possible re-think of the German government's plans for a basic pension.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
The CDU is fiercely debating what happens once the Merkel-era endsImage: Reuters/H. Hanschke


Who is Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer? Kramp-Karrenbauer, also known as AKK, was elected to the head of the CDU last year after Merkel stepped down from her post as party leader. She also serves as defense minister and has been pushing to boost Germany's military and advocating for Berlin to play a stronger role on the international stage. She previously served as the premier of the western state of Saarland.

Who is Friedrich Merz? Known for being fiscally and socially conservative, Merz has been critical of the party's centrist position under Merkel's leadership. Many of his supporters believe the drift caused voters to flock to the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD). He lost a bid to lead the party last year, but has remained a prominent voice in the party for his critique of the government's work in Berlin. Prior to re-emerging on the political scene last year, Merz served as a board member on BlackRock, the world's biggest investment management corporation.

What role is Merkel playing? Although she's the most prominent member of the party, the chancellor will be taking a backseat during this year's party congress. Merkel gave an opening speech on Friday, where she defended the work her government has done and called for support for multilateralism. but is making it clear that she will not be the one steering where the party goes next.

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