End of Merkel’s era as German CDU picks new party leader

Angela Merkel has vowed not to contest the elections again after becoming Europe’s predominant leader since taking office in 2005.

Centrist Armin Laschet, arch-conservative Friedrich Merz, and foreign policy expert Norbert Roettgen are vying for the CDU leadership. However, polls show Markus Soeder, the CSU leader, is the voters’ choice among conservatives. Some CDU lawmakers want dynamic Health Minister Jens Spahn to run for chancellor, though he has backed Laschet for the party leadership. The three declared CDU candidates all contrast with Merkel. Roettgen, 55, the eloquent chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, wants Germany to take a firmer stance with Russia and China. Merz, 65, has targeted European Central Bank policy and is less diplomatic. Laschet, 59, who has polished his international profile, complains Berlin has taken “too long to react” to French calls for European Union reform. Roettgen has suggested that, if elected CDU leader, he could support Soeder, Bavaria’s premier, to run as chancellor candidate for their alliance. Soeder, 54, has shifted from the right towards the moderate center of late. He plays coy about his ambitions — “My place is in Bavaria” has been his repeated refrain. Carsten Nickel at Teneo, a political risk consultancy, said Soeder’s deft move towards the center ground could make him the ideal candidate to lead a coalition with the ecologist Greens. “But of course, the true challenges will arise when liberal and conservative demands clash,” Nickel added.

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