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If AKK can't be the next Merkel, who can? Step forward Friedrich Merz

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(December 7, 2018) Friedrich Merz, a-then candidate for the CDU's chairmanship, delivers his speech during the party convention in Hamburg, Germany
(December 7, 2018) Friedrich Merz, a-then candidate for the CDU's chairmanship, delivers his speech during the party convention in Hamburg, Germany   -  
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After the resignation of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as the CDU leader following a political earthquake in Thuringia's regional elections, the party's Economic Council vice-president Friedrich Merz seems to be on course to claim the leadership.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, also known as AKK - the former designated successor of German chancellor Angela Merkel - gave up on Monday her candidacy for chancellor as she stepped down as the CDU party chairwoman.

She had come under increasing pressure in recent days after CDU members of the local parliament of Thuringia, together with AfD, elected an FDP candidate as the state governor.

Initially, Merz himself did not comment directly on the troubles within his party; on Twitter, he only said there was "other news these days" as he distributed one of his newspaper interviews.

Through a spokesperson, he also announced that "in such a situation, it is more important to think wisely than to talk quickly."

Kramp-Karrenbauer's decision deserves respect, Merz later said on Twitter. "I give her every support in leading the process of her succession and her candidacy for chancellor as the elected party leader".

Can he now hope to run the party?

Even before Kramp-Karrenbauer announced her resignation, Merz was already mentioned by German political analyst Ursula Münch as a possible new strongman for the CDU.

"I would imagine Friedrich Merz bringing himself into play, and people saying: Yes, we would rather trust him than (Armin) Laschet, who basically holds different positions from him, and may also struggle to integrate the East German regional associations," Münch told Euronews.

Who is Friedrich Merz?

Merz is considered a representative of the CDU's right-wing.

He has been called Merkel's "arch-rival" and he has also openly voiced his criticism of the Chancellor. He is a financial expert, is considered a "conservative, a "modern reactionary" and a "man of big business". His supporters hope that he could win back the vote of the Christian Democrats that fled to AfD.

When CDU's new party heads were elected at the end of 2018, he was considered a favourite together with AKK. Observers believe that it was his weak party conference speech that cost Merz, who is otherwise known as a good rhetorician, the office. He lost the vote 517 to 482.

There was no ministerial post for Merz afterwards - even though other prominent voices from the CDU had spoken in favour of him, in order to give to the conservative and economically liberal wing of the party a more incisive representation.

Good timing or well informed?

Merz chose a good timing when he gave up last week his supervisory board position with US asset manager Blackrock. On February 6, he then declared that he wanted to "become even more committed to this country in the coming weeks and months".

Merz is not new to politics. From 2000 to 2002, he was head of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, and thus the leader of the opposition - until Angela Merkel pushed him out of office.

After that, he gradually withdrew from active politics, and collected one board position after another. "The change in perspective in recent years has sharpened his view of politics," Merz writes about himself on his website.

In 2000, he circulated the controversial term "German guiding culture": in the debate, he demanded that foreigners in Germany learn German and "accept customs, traditions and habits".

He advocates a strict immigration policy, deregulation and privatisation in the economy.

He caused a stir by calling for the simplification of the income tax and the abolition of the solidarity tax.

In 2004, Merz lost his laptop at a taxi stand, at Berlin's Ostbahnhof train station. Luckily for him, a homeless newspaper vendor found it, handed it to the Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesgerenzschutz) and left the address of the homeless aid organisation as a contact.

A few weeks later, the honest finder got gifted a signed copy of the newly issued Merz's book, Only those who change will survive. From the end of the illusion of prosperity - setting the course for our future.

Personal information

Merz was born in 1955 in Brilon, in Sauerland, Germany. He has been married for 30 years and is the father of three adult children. He has a degree in law and political science, and works as a lawyer.

He joined the CDU at the age of 17 and sat in the European Parliament for five years from 1989.

From 1994 to 2009 he was a member of the German Bundestag.

Since June 2019 he has been Vice-President of the CDU Economic Council.

Other runners and riders

Sudha David-Wilp, a Deputy Director and Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund, outlined to Euronews’ Good Morning Europe programme the likely contenders to replace Merkel, and why the next choice would be closely watched by Europe.

“Most anticipated that the election in Germany would take place next year. In a sense, maybe this is better for Europe because now there is more clarity for who will lead the CDU. Merkel is now certainly a lame duck,” she said.

You can watch more of her interview in the player above

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