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Germany’s Crisis of the Right

The resignation of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the leader of Germany's Christian Democratic Union and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s designated successor, has plunged the party into crisis and raised fresh doubts about the survival of the country's ruling coalition. The biggest beneficiaries of the current chaos may well be the Greens.

LONDON – An earthquake is shaking Germany’s normally placid political scene, after elections last October in the eastern state of Thuringia produced a stalemate that remained unresolved until early this month, when a liberal underdog was elected minister-president with help from the far-right Alternative für Deutschland and local Christian Democratic Union politicians. The CDU’s cooperation with the AfD constituted a major breach of the post-war German consensus ruling out mainstream parties’ cooperation with the far right, and generated bitterness across the political spectrum.

Several state-level officials subsequently resigned, but the biggest shock came on February 10, when Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the CDU’s national leader and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s designated successor, abruptly quit. AKK, as Kramp-Karrenbauer is widely known, fell because she had failed to stop Thuringia’s CDU politicians. But she already had made several blunders since becoming party leader in 2018 (including commenting about the need to censor the Internet) and as Merkel’s defense minister (proposing a solution to the Syrian-Turkish conflict without consulting the foreign minister). As a result, her approval rating in the polls had plummeted long before the Thuringia vote.

AKK’s resignation has reopened the search for Merkel’s potential successor. Those who already sense an opportunity include Health Minister Jens Spahn, politician-turned-financier Friedrich Merz, and Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. With a parliamentary election due in 2021, the CDU will need to elect a new leader by the end of this year – and AKK has made it clear that this person also should be the party’s top candidate for chancellor.

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