Germany Begins To Chart A Course For Life After Angela Merkel

22 hours ago
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Germany, the ruling Christian Democrats, or CDU, have chosen a successor to Angela Merkel for the position of party chair. While Merkel intends to continue to serve out her final term as chancellor until 2021, the election of a new party leader signals the beginning of the end of the Merkel era. Esme Nicholson has this report.

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ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Angela Merkel looked slightly uncomfortable yesterday while her party paid tribute to her, their leader, of more than 18 years. But as Merkel delivered her final speech as CDU chair at the party's annual conference, the typically stoic politician was unable to hide her emotion entirely.

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CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Through interpreter) It's time to start a new chapter. Today, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by one single feeling - gratitude. It has been a great pleasure for me. It has been an honor. Thank you.

NICHOLSON: After enduring a standing ovation for almost 10 minutes, Merkel insisted enough was enough and that there was work to do. That work included choosing Merkel's replacement as party chair. Following a tight leadership race between three candidates, the CDU narrowly voted in favor of the only female front-runner, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, or AKK for short. Kramp-Karrenbauer is often dubbed somewhat disparagingly as a mini-Merkel, something she insisted yesterday she is not.

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ANNEGRET KRAMP-KARRENBAUER: (Through interpreter) I've been reading a lot about what and who I am - mini, a copy or a simple continuation. Dear delegates, I stand before you as my own person. Over the past 18 years, I have learned what it means to lead. Most of all, I have learned that inner strength is more important than being loud in public.

NICHOLSON: Eager as she is to distance herself from her predecessor, Kramp-Karrenbauer is expected to continue Merkel's centrist course, a concern for many within the CDU. Those who backed AKK's male competitors were voting for a shift to the right, a move many viewed as the only way to win back voters from the far-right populist Alternative for Germany party. The AfD's party co-chair, Alexander Gauland, says AKK will benefit his party more than the CDU.

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ALEXANDER GAULAND: (Through interpreter) AKK is an extension of the Merkel era. She supported Merkel's asylum policy, so I don't see how she is in any way a fresh start for the party.

NICHOLSON: Kramp-Karrenbauer, though, has spoken out in favor of positions more traditionally associated with the conservative wing of the Christian Democrats. Describing herself as a staunch Catholic, AKK is unequivocally against gay marriage and advocates keeping a Nazi-era law that bans doctors from advertising abortion services. But as one party delegate remarked, there have been three popes during Angela Merkel's 18-year term as party leader. In any case, commentators predict that Kramp-Karrenbauer is unlikely to challenge Merkel for the position of chancellor until her term is up.

For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.