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Mrs Merkel has vowed to leave the role she has held since 2005 next year – but what happens after that is far from certain, not least because her anointed successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, resigned as leader of Mrs Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), earlier this year, in the process removing herself from the race to become Chancellor. Hans-Olaf Henkel, who stepped down from the European Parliament last year, identified four frontrunners: Armin Laschet, Prime Minister of North-Rhine-Westphalia; Norbert Roettgen, Leader of the Committee of External Affairs in the Bundestag; Markus Soder, Prime Minister of Bavaria, who has yet to declare his interest; and Friedrich Merz, Ex-Leader of the CDU in the Bundestag.
Mr Merz, Mr Laschet and Mr Roettgen have all declared their candidacy for the CDU leadership, with Mr Merz seeking the job despite having been defeated by Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer – sometimes referred to as Mrs Merkel’s “Mini-Me” – two years ago.
Mr Henkel told Express.co.uk: “Of these, only Roettgen is without chance. My favourite would be Merz.
“After Corona, the priority must be the resurrection of our economy.
“Merz is the only one who has some personal business experience.
“Merz stands for more liberal and conservative values.
“The others would likely continue on Merkel’s leftist and greenish course especially as regards refugees, state interventions in the economy and illusionary energy policies.”
Mr Henkel, who is also a former President of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) said: “Merz is a solid proponent of good transatlantic relations, of NATO.
“Merz is for more solid financing, less debts, less bureaucracy and less taxes as compared to Merkel and the other candidates.”
Additionally, Mr Henkel singled out Mr Merz as the only one of the candidates who would be able to woo back disenchanted ex-CDU voters from the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
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Merz understands better than all others how detrimental Brexit will be to the EU
Mr Henkel, a fierce critic of EU bureaucracy and centralisation, added: “As far as EU-policies are concerned, there is unfortunately no difference between the candidates.
“They all are for ‘more Europe’, perhaps Merz a little less than the others.”
However, he stressed: “Merz understands better than all others how detrimental Brexit will be to the EU.”
Assessing Mr Merz’s credentials, Mr Henkel said: “I have met and talked to them all personally.
“If I was in the CDU, I would not only vote for him as Party leader, I would also vote for him as Candidate for Chancellorship.”
Mr Merz seemed to have lost his chance to lead the CDU when he was defeated by Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer in the 2018 leadership contest in a three-way contest which also included Jens Spahn, currently Mrs Merkel’s health minister.
Mrs Kramp-Karrenbauer edged Mr Merz out in a second-round run-off, taking 51.75 percent of the vote to Mr Merz’s 48.25 percent.
In an interview with Deutschlandfunk this week, Mr Merz explained his reasons for throwing his hat into the ring once more, stressing his extensive experience.
He subsequently tweeted: “I think I have proven enough in my professional life that I can also lead and assume political responsibility.”
The contest, delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, will now happen in the summer.
However, even if Mr Merz is successful there are no guarantees – the CDU’s new leader will have to wait for Mrs Merkel to step down next year, with no certainty they will follow her into the top job.
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