(Bloomberg) — Friedrich Merz, a longtime antagonist of Angela Merkel, will attempt to put himself at the center of discussions over her succession by speaking directly to party members at the epicenter of the turmoil shaking up the Christian Democratic Union.
The former CDU caucus leader will appear in Apolda — about 30 miles from Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia — at the party’s Ash Wednesday event on Feb. 26, his spokesman said on Thursday in an emailed statement.
His appearance in the state, where the CDU’s local chapter sparked national outrage by throwing its lot in with the far-right Alternative for Germany to vote for the Thuringia premier, indicates he’s prepared to tackle the crisis head on. Ash Wednesday speeches are a tradition in German politics. The events typically offer politicians a platform to address issues in a more emotional way, a departure from staid stump speeches.
Merz, who has yet to officially declare his candidacy, is the first of several potential contenders to enter the race to replace Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as CDU leader, who will most likely be the chancellor candidate in the next election. He will leave his job as supervisory board chairman of BlackRock Inc.’s German unit at the end of March to focus on his political career.
Kramp-Karrenbauer — the former Merkel protege, who narrowly beat out Merz for the job in December 2018 — announced her resignation on Monday after failing to contain the fallout from the crisis. She had struggled to rally support in the party and had become increasingly unpopular with voters.
Health Minister Jens Spahn, who also previously sought the post, has indicated interest by saying on Wednesday that he’s ready to “take on responsibility.” Both Spahn and Merz are from the more conservative wing of the party.
North Rhine-Westphalia’s state premier Armin Laschet, who didn’t run in December 2018, is expected to be the leading centrist contender. He hasn’t publicly declared his intentions. Speaking to state lawmakers in Dusseldorf on Thursday, he gave an impassioned speech attacking the AfD for fomenting hate. He reiterated his stance that the CDU shouldn’t cooperate with the far-right party in any form.
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