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German conservatives to replace Merkel with Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as party head

Jill Petzinger
Jill Petzinger, Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer at CDU’s board meeting in Hamburg, Germany. Photo: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has been chosen by some 1,000 delegates as the new Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader at the party congress today in Hamburg, Germany, bringing Angela Merkel’s 18 years at the helm to an end.

The 56-year-old, currently CDU general secretary, beat Friedrich Merz by 517 to 482 votes to clinch the leadership position. Merz, a wealthy corporate lawyer, was set to make a political comeback after nearly a decade in the private sector. Federal health minister Jens Spahn came in third.

“I stand here just as I am, as life made me, and I’m proud of it,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said in her final pitch to delegates. “Leadership is more about the inner strength than outer volume.”

Today’s vote has been closely watched, as whoever leads the CDU is likely to become the next chancellor of Europe’s biggest economy. The choice of leader also has more immediate implications for the future survival of Germany’s biggest party, which has been struggling with an identity crisis, as well as Merkel’s chances of serving out the rest of her term until 2021. Had Merz won, it would probably have meant an untimely end to Merkel’s reign, since she pushed him out of politics in the early 2000s, and he believes she led the party too far left of centre.

A close ally of Merkel, Kramp-Karrenbauer (known as “AKK” in Germany) is a down-to-earth, experienced politician, who was formerly the state premier of Saarland. While she has often been dubbed “mini Merkel” for her steady, pragmatic style, she subtly distanced herself from the chancellor in the run-up to today’s high-stakes vote. She has indicated she would implement tougher rules on migrants, telling a German newspaper that while she owes much to Merkel, they have different views on a number of issues, and criticising her predecessor’s “lack of consistent explanation on migration policy.”

Merkel suddenly announced she would step down as head of the CDU in October this year, after the party took a severe drubbing in two big state elections this year.

READ MORE: The most powerful woman in Europe — Merkel — to step down as CDU party leader