Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will step down as the CDU’s chair and a potential candidate for the chancellorship in 2021. Kramp-Karrenbauer first communicated her decision to the CDU’s presidium on Monday before addressing the public. Nonetheless, she will continue to work and organize the transition towards the party’s next chancellor candidate and hand over the party chair in the summer.

Chancellor Angela Merkel will keep Kramp-Karrenbauer in her cabinet. At the CDU presidium’s meeting on Monday morning, the chancellor expressly spoke out for Kramp-Karrenbauer to remain the Defense Minister, before thanking her for her service as the party’s chair.

Criticism Of Kramp-Karrenbauer Over Thuringia Election

Kramp-Karrenbauer was sharply criticized for managing the crisis after the recent controversial Minister-President election in Thuringia. FDP politician Thomas Kemmerich was elected Prime Minister last Wednesday in the state parliament in Erfurt—and also by the CDU and the AfD, whose parliamentary group is led by the party’s extreme right leader Björn Höcke. Kemmerich was subsequently massively criticized for accepting the election’s results, which he would not have won without the AfD’s votes. He resigned the following day. In the aftermath, Kramp-Karrenbauer stated the Thuringia CDU had acted against the federal party’s directive, thus insinuating subordination and making herself look like a chair without power.

What Does Kramp-Karrenbauer’s Departure Mean For The AfD?

After the announced withdrawal of Kramp-Karrenbauer, the AfD sees opportunities for the two parties to come closer. AfD parliamentary group leader Alexander Gauland said on Monday: “It is completely nonsensical and unrealistic not to want to work with the AfD in the long run.” AfD chair Jörg Meuthen and deputy chair Beatrix von Storch demanded that Chancellor Merkel also resigns.

Kramp-Karrenbauer has been the federal chairman of the CDU since December 2018. Alongside herself, the candidate for chancellor of the Union was repeatedly in discussion with the North Rhine-Westphalian Minister-President Armin Laschet, ex-Union faction leader Friedrich Merz, CSU chair Markus Söder and Health Minister Jens Spahn. So far, none of them has declared the desire to take over the leadership in the summer and likely become the party’s next chancellor candidate. Minister-President and CDU Vice Armin Laschet, who has long been considered a possible candidate for the chancellorship and who leads the largest CDU state association, was not present during the meeting. Friedrich Merz recently gave up his position as Chairman of the Supervisory Board at Blackrock in order to have more time for political work and is favored by an influential, conservative wing within the CDU (“Werte Union”). One can assume that particularly Laschet and Merz are going to position themselves in the next few days.

Kramp-Karrenbauer Known For Weak Leadership

Kramp-Karrenbauer has long been accused of weak leadership within the party. At the Leipzig party conference in November, she openly offered a vote against her own position, to bring about the unity of the party. Thereupon she received long applause. The Thuringian situation then gave all of her internal party-political opponents an excuse to increase the pressure to which she ultimately succumbed.

Whoever becomes Kramp-Karrenbauer’s successor will have to address the party’s future position on the AfD and Die Linke, which should not be easy. There are members within the CDU who envision cooperating with parts of the AfD, while others categorically reject it. However, the strengthening of Germany’s Greens raises the question of whether or nor the CDU will still be able to govern in the future without a right-wing alliance with the AfD.

One result is already inevitable: The AfD is the big winner as it demonstrated that it has the power to cause a significant crisis while making its party look like the victim of anti-democrats in the process and potentially realigning the CDU’s future course.

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