(Bloomberg) — Angela Merkel said she won’t get directly involved in choosing a new leader for her party or a candidate to succeed her as German chancellor, appearing to row back on previous comments.
“My historical experience is that predecessors should stay out of such things,” Merkel said at a news conference after hosting Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Berlin. “That’s what I will do,” she said, adding that she’s still open to speaking with potential candidates.
Merkel, who plans to leave politics when her fourth term expires next year at the latest, previously said she plans to “cooperate very well” in the effort to find a new head for the Christian Democratic Union, who would have the inside track to be the party’s chancellor candidate in the next national election.
The leadership race was thrown open last week when her chosen successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, unexpectedly announced she would step down after a state chapter defied her orders and threw its lot in with the far-right AfD.
Three senior CDU figures are the leading contenders for CDU chief: Friedrich Merz, the former head of Merkel’s parliamentary caucus, Jens Spahn, her health minister, and Armin Laschet, the premier of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Norbert Roettgen, head of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, made a surprise announcement Tuesday that he will also run.
While Laschet is considered a Merkel acolyte, Merz, Spahn and Roettgen are all seen as antagonists, raising the prospect of an early end to her chancellorship if they decide to try to force her out.
Kramp-Karrenbauer — widely known by her initials AKK — is overseeing the succession process and met with Merz on Tuesday and Roettgen on Wednesday morning. She is due to hold talks with Spahn and Laschet later on Wednesday before making a recommendation to CDU leaders on Feb. 24 on how to proceed.
Roettgen and other senior CDU figures are putting pressure on AKK to accelerate the succession.
“We have to have clarity. These are unusual times,” Roettgen told reporters Wednesday, according to news agency DPA. “I think it must be done before the summer break,” he added, reiterating that the CDU cannot afford months of self-obsession and calling for an open process that avoids what he termed a “back-room solution.”
Herbert Reul, the CDU interior minister in North Rhine-Westphalia, warned against the kind of protracted search for a party leader that he said has contributed to a collapse in support for the Social Democrats, Merkel’s junior coalition partners.
AKK’s replacement will likely have “the best cards” in the race to be the next conservative chancellor candidate, but there is no rush to decide who will run, he said in an interview Wednesday with Deutschlandfunk radio.
Whoever the party chooses, it would be wrong for them to try to force Merkel out before the end of her term, he added.
“I don’t understand the rush at all,” Reul said. “She is doing her job as chancellor, she is the most popular politician in Germany. For me, there is no reason for her to resign.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at firstname.lastname@example.org;Iain Rogers in Berlin at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at firstname.lastname@example.org, Chris Reiter
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