Kingmaker maneuvers behind men vying to succeed Germany’s Merkel By Reuters

© Reuters. Bundestag session in Berlin

By Andreas Rinke and Paul Carrel BERLIN (Reuters) – The conservative leader favored by German voters is not even running for election this week to head Angela Merkel’s party, but aims to play a key role in determining his candidate to succeed her as chancellor, party sources say. He may even take on that role himself if the eventual winner of the impending party votes to replace his failure, according to sources within the ruling conservative alliance. Merkel, who resigns after the federal elections in September, is heading into the final months of her term with her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) fighting over how to position the party after 15 years of rule marked by her instinct for compromise. The CDU elects a new president on Saturday, but none of the three contenders impress voters, leaving the party wondering how best to replace Merkel, a proven election winner who has become the predominant leader of Europe since he took office in 2005. Centrist Armin Laschet, Arch-Conservative Friedrich Merz and foreign policy expert Norbert Roettgen are fighting. Merkel said last year that Laschet, 59, had “the tools” to lead Europe’s largest economy and most populous country, but voters find him uninspiring. Markus Soeder enters. The burly and confident leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), is the voters’ conservative choice. He sees a unique opportunity to assert himself as a unifier or as a candidate for chancellor. “Soeder will play the role of king or kingmaker,” a member of the CDU Executive Committee told Reuters. The three declared candidates for the CDU all differ from Merkel. Roettgen, 55, an eloquent chairman of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, wants Germany to take a firmer stance with Russia and China. Merz, 65, has focused on the policy of the European Central Bank and is less diplomatic. Laschet, who has polished his international profile, complains that Berlin has taken “too long to react” to French calls for reform of the European Union. Soeder, 54, prime minister of Bavaria, is a political chameleon who has shifted from the right to the moderate center of late, though he remains a foreign policy unknown. He is shy with his ambitions: “My place is in Bavaria” has been his repeated refrain. But the Bavarian lieutenants are already maneuvering for the CDU / CSU alliance, the “Union,” to choose the chancellor candidate most likely to win the September elections, rather than simply opting for the CDU party leader, as is traditional. “A personnel decision will have to be based on this (criterion), regardless of who becomes the new CDU leader on January 16,” said Alexander Dobrindt, CSU leader in the Bundestag (lower house of parliament), at a CSU meeting. week. SWAGGER BÁVARO Whether Soeder decides to run for chancellor or simply plays a role in determining who will run, his arrogance promises to embolden conservatives weary of Merkel’s centrist commitments, even if he can’t match her pedigree in foreign affairs. . After making his mark with a devastating speech at the 2019 CDU congress, Soeder has reached out to Green environmentalists, likely the Union’s next coalition partner, and introduced himself as a strong manager of the coronary pandemic at conferences. periodical press releases together with Merkel in which he has represented the states of Germany. It also projects a charm that draws Germans beyond its native Bavaria. “Soeder is a very smart politician, but more of a novice when it comes to EU affairs and international politics,” said Nazi Masraff, an analyst at the Eurasia Group consultancy. To be sure, no German chancellors have come from the CSU, although Franz Josef Strauss and Edmund Stoiber of the CSU were the Union candidates in the federal elections of 1980 and 2002, respectively, which were won by the Social Democrats. This time, however, Soeder’s hand is bolstered by deep divisions among the three CDU men, all from the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, who covet the votes of 1,001 party delegates who will choose a winner in the digital meeting on Saturday. Supporters of Laschet and Roettgen aim to stop Merz, who wants to shift the CDU to the right. Last year, Merz stoked party divisions by saying that elements of the CDU establishment did not want him to get the job. A poll conducted by pollster Civey for the news magazine Der Spiegel late last month showed that if all Germans could vote, Roettgen, who presents himself as a modernizer, would be the president of the CDU and chancellor of Soeder. . Roettgen has hinted at that possibility. Last September, he said that a CDU leader must “be humble enough to do his best for the party.” Spiegel’s poll showed voters favoring Roettgen for the CDU leadership, with 31.7% support, followed by Merz with 28.8% and Laschet with 11.8%. However, Laschet controls the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia, which provides 298 of the 1,001 delegates. Before the CDU congress, conservatives Ralph Brinkhaus and Wolfgang Schaeuble said the chancellor candidate does not have to be the new head of the CDU, which could open the way for popular Health Minister Jens Spahn. When asked on Wednesday if he would run for chancellor, Spahn, who backs Laschet as party chairman, told Deutschlandfunk radio: “As of today, I am ruling it out.” Soeder has also shown his support for Laschet, praising his experience and skills in coalition building. Serap Gueler, a CDU delegate and Laschet ally who plans to vote for him, called him “a man of conviction” but added: “I think his weakness is perhaps … that he tries to explain certain things down to the last comma, and that. it can complicate them. ” Soeder wants to give the new CDU leader time to win over the voters and, with their help, unite the party, or else disband. It has asked the Union to decide on its candidate for chancellor only after state elections in mid-March. “If he feels that the CDU leader has a real chance, he will tend to play king,” said CSU senior lawmaker Hans Michelbach. “But if he concludes that the CDU leader doesn’t make it, then things are different.”