Who is Friedrich Merz, the new CDU boss? – After world

Friedrich Merz, a successful businessman, appeals to the conservative wing of the CDU

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Friedrich Merz, a successful businessman, appeals to the conservative wing of the CDU

The German Christian Democrats (CDU) elected Friedrich Merz as the new leader of the centre-right party at a digital party conference.

Merz received the support of 915 of the 983 delegates who cast their digital ballots – and won the vote by an overwhelming majority of over 94%.

In the run-up to the vote, Merz noted that the party had experienced turbulent times in the past three years, but promised a fresh start.

“This time is now behind us,” he said, adding that his election as the new party leader was a “strong” signal for the renewal of the CDU.

Previously, in December, he had received over 60% support from CDU members. Merz’s election to the party’s top post was certain, but observers had closely watched how many delegates would not support him. The overwhelming support of the delegates gives him a solid foundation as he takes over the reins of the party.

The CDU was founded in 1945 after World War II. Konrad Adenauer was its first chairman and in 1949 became the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. Since then, the CDU has led the federal government for a total of 52 years.

Friedrich Merz is now running against a party that will be limited to the opposition for the next three years and will have to sit next to the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the Bundestag plenum.

conservative roots

Merz has announced that he wants to rebuild the party and has vowed to “address all issues that our party considers important”. He will strive to unite the party so that different political ideas, opinions and currents can find their place in it again.

Merz, business lawyer, born in 1955, comes from a rural area in Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia. He is a devout Catholic and has been married to his wife Charlotte, a District Court Judge, since 1981. They have three adult children.

A brilliant speaker, he sometimes falters under pressure. He once suggested the possibility of writing a tax return “on a beer mat” instead of having to fill out pages of forms. However, he cannot answer how this is to be implemented in practice.

Spear horns with Merkel

In 1994 he moved into the Bundestag for the first time, and even then he and former Chancellor Angela Merkel represented different camps within the conservative party.

Merkel was supported by the younger party members, Merz was much more traditionally conservative. In 2002 he lost the battle for the leadership of the party’s parliamentary group, resigned from his position as party leader in 2004 and left parliament in 2009.

He then pursued a career in business, most recently as head of the German branch of the large US investment company BlackRock.

The multi-millionaire with a pilot’s license has long complained about bureaucratic hurdles for companies due to regulatory requirements, such as environmental protection.

When Merkel announced in 2018 that he would step down as party leader, Merz announced his candidacy – but lost to Merkel’s protégé Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. When she resigned after a series of slip-ups, Merz jumped at his chance again in early 2021 but lost to Armin Laschet, who lost in Germany’s federal election later that same year.

Change of course for the CDU

Both Kramp-Karrenbauer and Laschet were supporters of Angela Merkel’s moderate political course, which Merz was always critical of.

But at least since the sobering poor performance of the CDU in the federal elections in September 2021, Merz has changed his mind.

He has returned to the Bundestag as a member of parliament and seems ready to embark on a modernization course for his party. First, he proposed former Berlin health senator Mario Czaja, 46, as CDU general secretary and 34-year-old Christina Stumpp as deputy general secretary – a post that has yet to be created.

Merz was also interested in the fact that the newly elected members of the CDU federal executive committee include significantly more women than before.

In the past few weeks, Merz has repeatedly expressed his clear rejection of his party’s cooperation with the AfD. And he advocated changing the law to allow LGBTQ couples to adopt children. This clearly contradicts the conservative politician’s previous positions.

The message is clear: Merz wants to win back young voters, many of whom had turned to the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the environmentally conscious Greens in the September 2021 federal election.

Merz is a convinced European and wants the bloc to be economically, financially and strategically assertive in relation to China, Russia and the USA. Before entering the Bundestag in 1994, he was a member of the European Parliament for five years.

And he has strong transatlantic connections. Merz, who is impressed by the country’s economic liberality, has been to the United States more often than anyone from the CDU leadership in the past ten years. “We would get along well,” Merz said in 2020 about then-President Donald Trump.

Update January 22, 2022: This article has been translated from German and updated to reflect the latest developments.

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Author: Christoph Strack, Rina Goldenberg


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