The Christian Democratic Union, the senior partner in the German coalition government, will gather this weekend to choose a new leader who is likely to run as the candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor in the general elections to be held in October.

  • Merkel announced last year that she would not seek a fifth term. She became chancellor in 2005. Three candidates are running to take over the CDU party in a race that is too close to call.
  • Friedrich Merz, a former German lawmaker and millionaire corporate lawyer and lobbyist making a comeback in politics after 12 years in the private sector, wants to steer the party to the right and away from the Merkel center, in order to placate rising populist trends.
  • Armin Laschet, the head of North Rhine-Westphalia, one of the country’s biggest regions, is the continuity candidate, and Norbert Röttgen, head of the German Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, is running from the center.
  • The CDU could, however, choose another candidate than its own leader to run for the chancellor’s job — such as popular health minister Jens Spahn or the head of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, Markus Söder.
  • Current polls give the CDU 36% of the votes against 15% to its junior coalition partner, the social democrats’ SPD, which has chosen current finance minister Olaf Scholz as chancellor candidate in the October election.

From the archives (February 2020): How the resignation of Merkel’s heir apparent could benefit the German economy

The outlook: Merz has a slight lead in the polls and has made it clear he intends to run as chancellor candidate. The election of Merkel’s staunch conservative former rival would have a major impact on the direction the European Union would take in the next few years.

Merz is expected to be a hardliner on economic and fiscal matters, having criticized attempts by the eurozone to integrate further by sharing risks. And he has expressed strong views on the need to control immigration. All the other candidates would be more likely to continue Merkel’s middle-of-the-road and consensual policies both in style and substance.

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