Merkel’s CDU gathers for ‘controversial’ conference in Leipzig

Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) open their two-day party conference on Friday amid mutinous grumblings over the leadership of party chairman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

Merkel's CDU gathers for 'controversial' conference in Leipzig
'AKK' and Merkel speaking before the party congress on Thursday. Photo: DPA

Kramp-Karrenbauer, widely known by her initials “AKK”, has endured a rocky
first year at the helm since taking over the party leadership from Merkel at last year's conference.

The CDU lost votes to the Greens in May's EU election and to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in recent state polls in eastern Germany, while AKK's own reputation has suffered under a string of PR gaffes.

In April, she was widely condemned for an ill-judged joke about transgender bathrooms. A month later, she incurred the wrath of Youtubers with an attack on freedom of speech online.

READ ALSO: 'Most uptight people in the world': Merkel successor defends controversial joke

“I don't know many people who are convinced by her leadership style,” CDU regional politician Hans-Jörn Arp told DPA news agency on Wednesday.

CDU MP Axel Fischer, meanwhile, told Main Post newspaper that there was “a
desire for new heads” among the party membership.

'Too early'

One such new head could be 64-year-old lawyer Friedrich Merz, who narrowly lost out to Kramp-Karrenbauer in last year's leadership vote.

Having returned to the limelight with fierce criticism of Merkel's government in recent weeks, Merz is expected to respond to Kramp-Karrenbauer's conference speech in his role as a party delegate on Friday.

He remains the more popular choice among party members when it comes to who
will run to succeed Merkel as chancellor at the next elections.

Traditionally a question which the CDU leadership decides behind closed doors with its Bavarian sister party CSU, there are now growing calls to involve the party base in the candidate selection process.

Ahead of the conference, six motions have been put forward on the introduction of a members' vote or internal primaries.

However an outright coup attempt against AKK by Merz's supporters remains unlikely according to Hans Vorländer, a political scientist at Dresden's Technical University.

“It is much too early for the CDU to make personnel decisions,” he told AFP, claiming that the party needed more time to prepare for life after Merkel, who is set to step down in 2021 after 16 years at the helm.

Huawei ban

Yet personnel problems are not the only thing unsettling Germany's ruling party and its leader.

Kramp-Karrenbauer has also been accused of failing to give her party a clear political profile.

In a controversial letter published by German media last week, the CDU's state parliament leader in Baden-Württemberg, Wolfgang Reinhart, said the party was “insolvent” in terms of policy.

“The CDU has no antennae and no agenda for the big questions of our age,” he wrote, condemning what he called the “radical pragmatism” of recent years.

Reinhart's comments reflected wider frustrations over the unpopular governing coalition between the CDU, the Bavarian CSU and the social-democratic SPD.

A recent compromise with the SPD over pension reform enraged conservative
Christian Democrats, just a week after Merz described the government as “abysmal”.

Party delegates are expected to vent their frustrations this weekend with a vote urging the government to exclude Chinese technology firm Huawei from the
construction of a new 5G mobile network in Germany.

READ ALSO: Auction for superfast 5G launches in Germany

Such a vote would be a direct rebuke to Merkel's government, which has stood firm against an outright ban of Huawei despite accusations that the company spies on behalf of the Chinese government — something the company denies.

For Kramp-Karrenbauer, the divide between party and government has become
even more problematic since she joined the cabinet as defence minister in

Yet the CDU leader insisted on Thursday that she was looking forward to the party conference in Leipzig.

“There will be controversial debates,” she said.

“The conference is exactly the right place to have them.”

By Isabelle Le Page

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.