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November 22, 2019

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AKK vs Merz - the showdown starts today

This is going to be a hot political autumn in Europe. We would like to lead our coverage this morning with a preview of what is certain to become the single most important week in German politics this year. This morning the CDU’s two-day party congress kicks off, with a speech by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer scheduled around noon, followed by a debate in which Friedrich Merz will make a programmatic speech. Next week, SPD party members will decide whether to support Olaf Scholz, and indirectly the grand coalition, or whether to go into opposition. To look out for in the next few days are not only the big votes, but also subtle programmatic shifts. 

The CDU congress is not going to bring us an insurrection. Merz will not challenge AKK. His job is to keep his leadership ambitions alive. He scores persistently higher than AKK in opinion polls, among both CDU members and the public at large. There is a caucus in the party that wants him to be the candidate to become chancellor at the next elections, presumably in 2021. His opponents are not only AKK and Angela Merkel, but also other CDU hopefuls like Armin Laschet, the premier of North-Rhine Westphalia, and Jens Spahn, health minister. 

The CDU will choose its candidate for the 2021 elections in late 2020. What the Congress will do is to settle for a mechanism. AKK is in favour of a referendum among party members. 

What we will be looking out for today is whether Merz will achieve what he failed to do last time: set the delegates on fire and present his own distinct vision for the future of the CDU. As we have reported, AKK has found her political theme - a stronger focus on national security and defence, and further defence integration in Europe. The most interesting part of her long interview with FAZ was a clear attempt to align herself with Emmanuel Macron. As we and a few others have noted, the two have a lot more in common than meets the eye. The language is different, but they share a common view on the future of European defence. And, unlike Angela Merkel, AKK is willing to put political capital behind it. To us, this is one of the most interesting developments in German politics right now.  

It is quite possible that AKK ends up losing that battle. She remains unpopular. But she is the CDU leader, and we sense no appetite for a rebellion among party delegates at this stage. 

So, what does Merz stand for? We knew him well in the early 2000s during the time when he was leader of the CDU/CSU group in the Bundestag, effectively the opposition leader at the time. His big theme was deregulation, very fashionable at the time. Today, it would be hard to win an election on market liberalisation or more European integration. We think the best bet would be a new industrial policy for the next decade, in combination with a rethink of security policy. Germany faces huge structural challenges from the transition of analogue industry to a digital world. It also has a dysfunctional army and dysfunctional defence policy. It is far from clear to us that Merz is a natural candidate for such an agenda. 

Our other stories

We also have stories on the two main threats to Macron's pension reform; on an insurrection by Five Star members; on the Catalan left separatist party ERC consulting its members about making Pedro Sánchez PM; on the state of eurozone real estate markets; on improving Greek debt forecasts; and on the purpose of Labour's radical election manifesto.

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