As Merkel Prepares to Step Down, the Future of German Conservatism Is Open
This weekend’s vote for a new chair of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is a curtain raiser for what will be a busy German election year ahead. Before votes are cast for six state governments and for a new federal government in Berlin, 1,001 CDU delegates will meet online this weekend to choose one out of three contenders to take the reins of their party as Chancellor Angela Merkel closes out her final year in office. The result will not be a major game-changer for the general election because the CDU, as the last real catch-all party in the political system, looks to be in good position to win. But the vote still matters for the future of conservatism in the country.
Armin Laschet, Friedrich Merz, and Norbert Röttgen—all men, all over the age of 50, and all hailing from North Rhine-Westphalia but with different politics—would not have this chance if Merkel’s hand-picked successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, had not called it quits last year. Weak performances in the 2018 European Parliament election and German state elections, coupled with her awkward missteps—for example, she was accused of calling for online censorship after the CDU faced a poor showing in the 2019 EU elections—left many questioning whether Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is currently the defense minister, had what it took to lead the CDU let alone be chancellor.