CDU to choose new party leader

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, December 7, offered a staunch defense of her moderate course during 18 years as party leader, as her Christian Democratic Union chose between a loyal deputy and a longtime rival to succeed her.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has been elected as the new leader of Merkel's centre-right party.

A staunch Catholic, Kramp-Karrenbauer has spoken out in favour of a ban on doctors who carry out abortions being able to advertise their services, after a court case propelled the topic into the headlines, and is also openly sceptical about the "marriage for all" law campaigned for by her opponent, Jens Spahn, who is married to his male partner.

The 56-year-old former state premier gained the nickname because of her pragmatic centrist political style and her reputation as a Merkel loyalist.

In recent weeks, the new party leader sought to put a careful distance between herself and Merkel without disavowing her, saying she has had "very lively discussions" with the chancellor on various subjects.

Merkel suddenly announced she would step down as head of the CDU in October this year, after the party took a severe drubbing in two big state elections this year.

She also took a more cautious stance on the future of Europe than Merz, who said Germany should "contribute more" to the European Union as it benefits from a euro common currency that is "too weak for our economy".

Outlining the multiple challenges facing Germany, from rapidly changing technology to climate change and a global shift away from multilateralism to defending national interests, she said: "In times like these, we will defend our liberal views, our way of life, both at home and overseas".

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Merkel listed some of those moments and many more in a half-hour farewell speech as leader, telling delegates that "our CDU today is different from the year 2000, and that is a good thing".

"But we won four national elections together ... and I am happy I can remain chancellor". She already lost her firm control over CDU lawmakers in September, when her parliamentary group staged a coup, unseating her caucus chairman in favor of a more independent rival.

"I'm maintaining absolutely neutrality on the question of the personnel decision, and I think that's absolutely right", she told reporters at a reception on Thursday night.

"The Merkel era is palpably coming to an end", political journalist and AKK biographer Kristina Dunz said.

Merz, who bowed out of politics in 2009 to pursue corporate law, is described as socially conservative and economically liberal, further to the right than Merkel who has pursued a policy of "Die Mitte", German for "the Centre". "Opposing camps are forming".

AKK is believed to have Merkel's strong backing but much will depend on how deep and widespread the longing is for a more conservative profile. He won support this week from party veteran and former finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Whoever wins will face towering challenges for the party, which is now drawing around 28 percent at the polls, far below the around 40 percent enjoyed during Merkel's heyday.

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