Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU), delivered a highly-anticipated speech as she fought to defend her post 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.
- “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.
- Digitalization was a particular focus, with the CDU leader advocated for making a new ministry where the primary focus would be bringing Germany up to speed with other nations with better internet and mobile networks.
- Taking an indirect dig on her rivals and critics, she said criticizing Merkel’s government and saying the party is doing everything wrong is “not a good campaigning strategy.”
- 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.”
What’s at stake?
The CDU is at a crossroads as 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.
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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