German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fiercest critic Friedrich Merz is determined to drive Mrs Merkel from power earlier than she had planned in his bid to take control of the Christian Democrats (CDU). As the leadership contest got underway, Mr Merz told a crowd of 1,300 supporters: “Things can’t stay as they are.
“We have to transfer the enthusiasm here to the outside.”
CDU party member Bernhard Koegel said Mr Merz was “the only one in the CDU right now who has the courage” to stand up to the German leader.
He added: “He is the only one who will be able to stop Merkel.”
Mrs Merkel’s plans for an orderly succession have been left in ruins after her conservative protegee, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, gave up her ambitions for the top job.
The German leader, who has been in power for nearly 15 years, said she would not seek re-election and stood down as party chair in 2018, handing over to Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer.
But Mrs Merkel clung on to Chancellorship until she was ready to step down in 2021.
However, Mrs Merkel could be forced to stand down early if rival Mr Merz, with whom the chancellor may find it impossible to work, becomes the next party leader.
Experts have warned the possibility of having Mr Merz as party leader while Mrs Merkel remained Chancellor would be unworkable and force her to surrender early.
Mr Merz used to be the head of the CDU parliamentary faction but was unceremoniously removed from his post in 2002 by Ms Merkel, igniting a long-standing feud between the pair.
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The 64-year-old lawyer has ever since been a fierce critic of the Chancellor, in particular of her policies on immigration.
He has been scathing in his criticism of the government’s policy to allow the “unregulated influx” of migrants, arguing that it has helped to fuel the rise of Alternative for Germany.
Meanwhile, Ms Merkel’s ally and leadership contender Armin Laschet has said he will not pressure the German Chancellor to leave early.
Health Minister and former leadership candidate Jens Spahn, who has backed Mr Laschet as leader, said: “Our candidacy is not directed at Angela Merkel.
“It’s not about a break, and it wouldn’t succeed anyway.
“It’s about learning to walk after 15 years of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship.
“We, as the CDU, are in the biggest crisis of our history, a crisis of trust, solidarity and confidence.
“Armin Laschet and I sometimes had our differences in the past, but that’s what it’s about in a people’s party: building bridges between different positions and different generations.”
Mr Laschet, the chief minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, added: “We can and we must bring our party and our country together again.
“That’s why I want to run as leader of the CDU.”
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