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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Migration key in race to succeed Angela Merkel as CDU leader

The nomination will determine whether the party will break away from the liberal course taken by the chancellor

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Friedrich Merz (L) and Jens Spahn are candidates to succeed Angela Merkel as leader of the CDU. Getty Images
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Friedrich Merz (L) and Jens Spahn are candidates to succeed Angela Merkel as leader of the CDU. Getty Images

Migration policy is shaping up to be a seminal factor in the race to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel as leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and in determining the future trajectory of the party and its core values.

German businessman Friedrich Merz, one of the three contenders, said in a televised debate on Sunday that he valued “conservativism” and “healthy patriotism” as he spoke out against Mrs Merkel’s liberal refugee policy, which resulted in over a million refugees entering Germany at the height of the crisis in 2015.

Mr Merz would represent a clean break with the liberal course taken by the chancellor since her election in 2005.

A one-time Christian Democrat stalwart, the 62-year-old businessman – who recently admitted of earning about one million euros a year through his numerous companies with ties to the United States – had led the party in opposition until Merkel pushed him out in 2002.

Mr Merz, who made popular the term Leitkultur – or dominant culture – in an article advocating controls on immigration and compulsory assimilation in a German core culture back in 2000, is seen as the popular choice among CDU conservatives eager to see Mrs Merkel’s long reign come to an end.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Merkel protégé, CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, is the continuity candidate who will likely to keep the CDU on a centrist course. Her nomination is supported by 43 per cent of the registered voters and 46 per cent of CDU supporters, according to polls.

Mr Merz lags behind with little over 30 per cent, while the third candidate, 38-year-old Health Minister Jens Spahn, hovers around 10 per cent.

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Mr Spahn, an arch-critic of Mrs Merkel's migrant policy, accused the current CDU policy of having contributed to the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party party, which now holds a seat in all of Germany's 16 states.

The health minister and other CDU members have gone rogue on asylum policy on Monday as he suggested that Germany should not sign the United Nation’s Global Compact on Migration set for ratification in December.

The pact calls for nations to take voluntary measures to help improve the conditions in migrants' countries of origin as well as better assimilate migrants in destination countries.

Thomas Strobl, the CDU's second-in-command, said that "we should not allow ourselves to be driven mad by the populist hysteria of the right." In reference to the surge of the German far-right, Mr Strobl added he was "absolutely opposed to the idea that, in fear of the misleading AfD campaign, we would execute even a partial withdrawal" from the agreement.

Mrs Merkel’s government has been beset by infighting and plunging popularity. The chancellor won another term in last year’s election, but the CDU score plunged by more than 8 percentage points.

The CDU is set to convene in December to nominate its next leader, who will replace Mrs Merkel when her term ends in 2021.