German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been the powerful and influential leader of Germany for over a decade. She is set to retire from her position in 2021, but there are many who believe she will step down sooner than expected. There are currently three candidates vying for her spot: Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK), Friedrich Merz, and Jens Spahn. AKK was initially seen as the frontrunner; however, recent polls show that Merz may be more popular among voters with his conservative ideology and economic policies.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, also known as AKK, has become a controversial candidate due to her tenure in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Under Merkel’s leadership, she has been considered more of a hardline conservative than Merkel. As the general secretary of the CDU for two years, AKK was responsible for her party’s electoral defeats in three key state elections.
She was also the CDU leader of Saarland from 2011 to 2018, where she won a third term as Prime Minister despite the CDU coming first place. However, her small win over a resurgent left-wing Social Democratic Party (SDP) has been considered unimpressive and has raised questions about her leadership.
Friedrich Merz, who is the former leader of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group and a vocal critic of Merkel’s immigration policies, is seen as an alternative to AKK – one that could be more conservative than Merkel. However, although he was considered to be a favorite for the top job at one point, he has lost some of his momentum after questions came up over his lobbying career.
Merz worked as a corporate lawyer in Paris for 18 years after leaving politics, where he represented embattled Deutsche Bank and its clients. His work with Deutsche Bank may severely hurt him since the bank was fined $630 million for helping clients launder money out of Russia. Merz has also been accused of lobbying the government to reduce the tax rate for top earners in Luxembourg.
Jens Spahn is currently one of Merkel’s cabinet members as the Federal Minister of Health; however, he may be seen as too conservative by some, which could hurt him with CDU voters. He is a conservative who has been critical of Merkel’s immigration policies and more recently, her economic policies.
Spahn has also become one of the few CDU members to speak about his Catholic faith in public; many see this as an attempt by him to attract Christian Democratic Union (CDU) voters turned off by AKK’s more liberal stances on morality.
Meanwhile, AKK has recently come under fire for her comments after a teenager was stabbed to death in the city of Kandel. The man accused of stabbing the girl is an Afghan refugee; she stated that “violence by migrants can’t be allowed to become normal.” This statement has sparked outrage among the left, who are now accusing her of being racist.
Merkel’s initial decision to open Germany’s borders in 2015 is seen as the main reason why she is leaving office at a time when the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has become increasingly popular. She had previously stated that there would be “no more illegal immigration” between Germany and Austria, but the move has been criticized by members in her own party.
Merz is seen as the biggest threat to AKK in this regard; he is outspoken about immigration and has not held back his criticism of Merkel’s policies in the past. He was involved with organizations that specifically helped refugees when he worked in the private sector, so it may be difficult for him to win the same voters that are supporting the AfD.
Merkel also announced in early December that she would step down as chancellor once her current term is over at the end of 2021, which will leave a four-year window open for her party members to campaign and challenge each other for the chancellorship. AKK has been quick to defend Merkel’s decision, saying that it is not a “farewell but a see you later.”
Concerns have been raised about how long this process could take and whether or not there will be enough time for a proper campaign after Merkel stated she would step down relatively early.