BERLIN (Reuters) - German conservative Friedrich Merz, who narrowly lost the race to succeed Angela Merkel as leader of the Christian Democrats, says he is ready to go back into politics full time and could even serve as a minister.
Merz's loss to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Merkel's protege, in the leadership contest this month, highlighted deep divisions in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that the party is eager to heal ahead of four regional elections next year.
Merz told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that he and Kramp-Karrenbauer had discussed how he might work in the CDU, though he refused to divulge details.
"I have renewed my offer once more to really go into politics with all my strength and to give up my previous work as well," Merz told the newspaper in an interview released on Tuesday.
Merkel, German chancellor for the last 13 years, decided in October to step down as party leader after the CDU haemorrhaged support in another regional vote.
She still hopes to stay on as chancellor until 2021, but further poor performances next year would further weaken both Merkel and her ruling coalition.
Merz appeals to the right of the CDU and party officials in eastern Germany would like him to play an active role in campaigning to head off the far-right.
Three of next year's regional votes will be in eastern states - Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia - where the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is particularly strong.
A trained lawyer who holds numerous non-executive company board positions, Merz returned for the leadership contest after a decade in the political wilderness.
Asked whether he could imagine taking on a ministerial role, Merz told Frankfurter Allgemeine: "I think I would be up to such a role given my experience in the economy and politics."
But he stressed any decision was up to Merkel.
Merz, 63, lost out to Merkel in a power struggle in 2002 and has been out of the Bundestag since 2009. On his return to politics to seek the CDU leadership, he was backed by party members tired of Merkel's consensual politics.
In a run-off vote at a party congress in Hamburg on Dec. 7, Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, favoured by the party elite, won 517 votes out of 999 votes cast by delegates. Merz won 482 votes.
Kramp-Karrenbauer immediately began trying to unite the CDU by promoting another right-winger, Paul Ziemiak, to replace her as secretary general - a role in which he will organise the party, election campaigns and congresses, and support her.
(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Susan Fenton)