Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (left) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel react after Kramp-Karrenbauer was chosen to succeed Merkel as the next leader of the Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) on December 7, 2018 in Hamburg. (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer promised to hold a “workshop discussion” (Werkstattgespräch) on immigration and security. On all major policy issues, however, Kramp-Karrenbauer's positions are virtually identical to those of Merkel.
“Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer is the continuation of Merkel by other means. She has supported the refugee policy and will not correct it.” — Alexander Gauland, Co-Chair, AfD party.
“The CDU has not given convincing answers to the consequences of globalization and digitization…. The CDU lacks a clear vision of how prosperity and jobs are not only secured but expanded…” — The business newspaper Handelsblatt, in a commentary entitled, “CDU: The Divided People's Party.”
Kramp-Karrenbauer — often referred to as “Mini-Merkel” or “Merkel 2.0” because many view her as Merkel's clone — won by just 35 votes (517 to 482) in a second-round run-off against her main opponent, a conservative named Friedrich Merz, at a CDU conference in Hamburg on December 7. Kramp-Karrenbauer's extremely narrow victory (51.7% to 48.2%) revealed a party split down the middle.
Merz had pledged to pull the CDU back to its conservative roots, after two decades of leftward drift under Merkel's leadership resulted in a mass defection of angry CDU voters to the anti-mass migration party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), now the third-largest in the German parliament.
Kramp-Karrenbauer, by contrast, promised only cosmetic changes to the status quo, apparently out of fear that substantive changes would alienate the Social Democrats (SPD), who currently form part of Merkel's “grand coalition” government.
The failure to make a clear break with “Merkelism” means that not only might the CDU be unable to win back disaffected voters, but that even more CDU voters could be tempted to defect to the AfD in the next general election, due by October 2021.
In her inaugural speech as CDU leader, Kramp-Karrenbauer — also known as AKK because her full name is a mouthful to pronounce — confirmed her intention to follow along the liberal path established by Merkel. Kramp-Karrenbauer said that she does not want the party to undergo a “conservative revolution” and instead wants the CDU to occupy the “very broad center.” Merkel has long insisted that the CDU must be the “People's Party of the Center,” and under Merkel's watch, the party has often used the slogan, “The Center” (Die Mitte).
After disgruntled conservatives threatened to form a new party, Kramp-Karrenbauer swiftly pledged to emancipate herself from Merkel by “occasionally contradicting” the chancellor “where it is necessary” in the interest of the CDU. Kramp-Karrenbauer also promised to hold a “workshop discussion” (Werkstattgespräch) on immigration and security.
On all major policy issues, however, Kramp-Karrenbauer's positions are virtually identical to those of Merkel. The German government's basic positions (Grundsatzprogramm) on European integration, open borders, multiculturalism are unlikely to change without Merkel's permission.
“Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer is the continuation of Merkel by other means,” said AfD co-chair Alexander Gauland, paraphrasing the Prussian general and military strategist Carl von Clausewitz. “She has supported the refugee policy and will not correct it.”
AfD MP Alice Weidel predicted that Kramp-Karrenbauer will benefit the AfD more than the CDU:
“Mrs. Kramp-Karrenbauer is Merkel's desired successor. Kramp-Karrenbauer means: Continuity! She is Merkel 2.0. With her, the leftward course of the CDU will continue, and thus the last conservative Christian Democrats have lost their fight and no longer have a political home in the CDU.”