German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plan to have a successor who would carry on with her legacy has been thrown into a spin following the resignation of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.
Kramp-Karrenbauer was Supposed To Be Next Up As Germany’s Leader—Now What?
Kramp-Karrenbauer—also known as AKK—was being groomed by Merkel to take over as Chancellor in 2021. In December 2019 Karrenbauer was elected as the leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union CDU to replace Merkel at the party’s convention in Hamburg. It was an historic occasion in that it was the first time the CDU was holding an open leadership contest since 1971.
Although the 1,001 delegates knew that the aim was to elect a leader for Germany’s most successful political party to replace Merkel who had been at the helm for 18 years they were also aware that whoever they elected would be a successor to Merkel as Germany’s Chancellor.
Even though Merkel did not endorse Kramp-Karrenbauer openly, there was no doubt that Kramp-Karrenbauer was clearly her favorite, after all Merkel had propelled her to the position of the party’s secretary general in February of that year. According to CDU policy the Chancellor is also the party leader, but Merkel decided to step down early from party position in order to prepare her successor for the Chancellorship.
AKK’s Competition for the Leadership
Kramp-Karrenbauer’s main competitor for the party’s leadership was Friedrich Merz a 63-year-old millionaire corporate lawyer. After a hotly-contested election , Kramp-Karrenbauer emerged the winner with a slim margin over Merz. What was clear from the results was that the party delegates wanted a leader who could carry on with Merkel’s policies. Merz was essentially unelectable because of his stand against Merkel’s centrism and liberal policies.
On the other hand Kramp-Karrenbauer, was a Merkel loyalist to the extent of being called the “mini-Merkel” because she was expected to replicate much of the Chancellor’s style and policy. However in her speech after her elections, she chose to downplay this saying, she would move away from Merkel’s shadow and forge her own path.
“I have a read a lot about what I am and who I am: ‘mini,’ ‘a copy,’ ‘simply more of the same.’ Dear delegates, I stand before you as I am and as life made me and I am proud of that,” she said.
Report: Kramp-Karrenbauer Asked Merkel to Resign in 2019
In May 2019 Bloomberg alleged that Kramp-Karrenbauer was making an attempt to force Merkel to step down as Chancellor claiming that that splitting the party leadership from the Chancellorship was damaging the party. The agency went on to report that Kramp-Karrenbauer had even sent a message to Merkel urging her to resign.
Karrenbauer actions were prompted by the CDU performance in the European elections. Although The CDU and its sister party the Christian Social Union had finished on top their support had fallen to 28.9% compared to stronger results in previous elections.
However, Kramp-Karrenbauer was forced to stop her plan after she failed to gain enough support to force Merkel to resign. Among those who opposed the move—according to Bloomberg—was Wolfgang Schaeuble, the president of Germany’s parliament and a CDU grandee. Schaeube insisted Merkel should stay in office until her term expired in 2021.
The report by Bloomberg was dismissed by Chancellor Merkel as nonsense. She also denied the existence of a rift between her and Kramp-Karrenbauer. For her part, Kramp-Karrenbauer also stated her ongoing loyalty to Merkel, remarking that “Angela Merkel is the Chancellor until 2021. I have to do my work as party leader and that’s what I am concentrating on.”
Kramp-Karrenbauer’s Appointment as Minister of Defense
Whether the report was true or false, the fact is that it resulted in questions being raised about Merkel’s plan to hand over the leadership of CDU to someone who would preserve her legacy. Nevertheless the relation between the two remained steady as Merkel went on to appoint Kramp-Karrebauer as Minister for Defense
In July 2019, as eyes all over the world were fixed on Boris Johnson’s entrance to Downing Street, many European countries focused their attention on the swearing of Kramp-Karrenbauer as Minister of Defense Minister. The key appointment made her one of the most powerful women in Europe in addition to being seen as Merkel’s likely successor.
Kramp-Karrenbauer’s Fall from Grace
Shortly after being sworn in as defense head, however, Kramp-Karrenbauer committed a series of communication and political blunders that made people doubt her abilities as a successor. This all occurred at a time rating had also begun to drop and the Germany economy was struggling.
In October of 2019, Kramp-Karrenbauer made a controversial proposal for the establishment of an internationally-controlled security zone in Syria which was to involve German and European forces. The proposal was heavily criticized at home and abroad since it could easily lead German and European forces to being involved militarily in Syria and escalating the already unstable situation.
Politically as the leader of CDU Kramp-Karrenbauer failed to win back right-wing voters with the party emerging a distant third emerging third behind the AfD in Thuringia. Because of the poor election results and her dwindling popularity, the CDU youth wing called for a membership vote to determine who was to be the next Chancellor after Merkel since they felt Kramp-Karrenbauer was incompetent.
Nonetheless, Kramp-Karrenbauer remained defiant, stating that she would stand by the CDU’s historic principle that the chancellorship and CDU leadership go “hand in hand.” “If that weren’t the case, we would really be feeling the turmoil that we have in the party,” she said.
‘Let’s End it Here, Now and Today’
Because of the growing discontent towards her, Kramp-Karrenbauer threatened to resign in November, 2019 saying, “If you are of the opinion that the Germany I want is not the one you want .. then let’s end it here, now and today.” Nonetheless, Kramp-Karrenbauer ended on a note of hope: “But dear friends, if you want this Germany, if you want to take this path together, then let’s roll up our sleeves here and now and make a start.” Her speech was greatly applauded by party members including her rivals, and for a time it appeared as if she had managed to secure total loyalty.
The Final Straw: Trouble In Thuringia
The biggest blow to Kramp-Karrenbauer’s fortunes came in early February when politicians from the CDU defied their own party and ganged up with Free Democratic party (FDP)and AfD to vote for Thomas Kemmerrich of FDP as Prime Minister of the German province of Thuringia. It was the first time since World War II that a politician had been elected to a senior state position mainly on the support of a far right party.
Merkel called the results a “bad day for democracy” saying “the results must be reversed.” The results also directly prompted Kramp-Karrenbauer to step down. “Any form of rapprochement with AfD weakens the CDU,” she said while announcing her resignation.
As Time stated, “AKK was supposed to be Merkel’s successor who would bring her centrist legacy and vision into the next decade of German politics.” But now that seems not be the case. According to observers one of the favorites for taking over the leadership of CDU is Merkel’s rival, Friedrich Merz. He draws his support from party members who oppose Merkel’s centrism and were unhappy with her open door policy that allowed many immigrants to settle in Germany. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s time in the spotlight—and the chance of smoothly carrying forward Merkel’s legacy—appears to be over.