BERLIN CORRESPONDENT: Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union selects a new party leader later this week to replace Angela Merkel. If you put your faith in the betting markets, it is odds-on for change.
The continuity candidate is Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the current general secretary of the CDU. A close ally of Merkel, her victory would be taken as an endorsement of the Chancellor’s policies during her 18-year tenure in office, including her aggressive centrism (which has seen a coalition with the left-of-centre Social Democrats for much of that time) and a permissive approach to immigration.
At the other end of the spectrum, the party delegates could choose the health minister, Jens Spahn, a fiscal conservative and critic of Merkel.
But the candidate the bookies say has the best chance of winning is the wild card, Friedrich Merz. A former party bigwig, he retired from Parliament in 2009 after being on the wrong end of a power struggle with Merkel.
When he was in frontline politics his political inclinations seemed economically liberal and socially conservative. But having been out for so long, he has more freedom to mix this up, for example, recently speaking out strongly in favour of further European integration.
Merkel’s policy of avoiding divisive issues where possible and, where not, splitting the difference after endless negotiation, looks like it is reaching the end of the road.
Germany’s big centrist political parties have declined while they have been in coalition and the growth of more vocal and issue-focused minor parties suggests that sharper policy differences and a more confrontational style is likely.
This may not necessarily be a bad thing. Splitting the difference on issues like the level of immigration or the degree of political integration with Europe (currently perplexing the UK parliament) can simply generate more extreme postures and continuing unhappiness on both sides.
At a certain point, the majority can opt for a solution and the minority, reluctantly, is carried along. Sometimes it is even the right decision.
It’s now up to the CDU delegates to decide if they think such a point is imminent. And any radical policy changes will still need to pass muster with Germany’s MMP-based parliament.