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Three men hoping to replace Angela Merkel

A picture combo shows the three candidates for the CDU party chair during a discussion round in the Konrad Adenauer House. Before the election of the CDU Federal Chairman, the candidates once again face the members in the discussion broadcast via livestream.

Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

Three men all want one job which has extremely big shoes to fill.

Whoever wins the leadership contest for Germany’s CDU Party on Jan. 16 will most likely also be the next chancellor of Germany, replacing Angela Merkel who will not stand for another term in office.

It looks like a tight race with Friedrich Merz currently leading in the polls by a small margin. The key question is — which direction will the CDU want to take, and how much courage do the party delegates have for a change in politics?

Merkel was elected chancellor in 2005 and has changed the party dramatically, from being a very conservative, male-dominated group into a party of the “middle.” That’s how she always framed it.

That was not always easy for the conservative wing and its clientele which partly left and is now voting for the populist party AfD. 

Merkel’s success was determined by her political intelligence to grasp what is popular with people, and to change course accordingly. Be it the exit from nuclear power, same-sex marriage or the introduction of a minimum wage. 

Now after 16 years in office, she will not stand again in the upcoming elections in September. And these are the three man who want her job:

Friedrich Merz

Friedrich Merz, candidate for the presidency of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union attends discussion with other candidates in CDU headquarter on December 8th, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. Leading members of the German Christian Democrats (CDU) Friedrich Merz, Armin Laschet and Norbert Roettgen, who are vying for the leadership of the party, debated with one another during their second round of live-streamed debates at CDU headquarters. The party is scheduled to elect a new leader later this month

Andreas Gora – Pool/Getty Images

He is currently, according to an opinion poll conducted by Infratest dimap, the most likely winner this weekend with a showing of 29%. 

He is backed by the conservative and the business wing of the party, but falls short of convincing the “women CDU” which are openly not supporting him. 

He pledges to transform the CDU into a more conservative party which could be a home again for many disgruntled voters who changed for the AfD. The former German chairman of BlackRock is well connected among the country’s business elite and is an expert in economic matters. 

If he leads the CDU into the next elections, he would favor a coalition with the Liberals, but this combination currently wouldn’t yield a majority. He’s on bad terms with the Greens, thus his election would ironically most likely mean a continuation of the Grand Coalition with the SPD.

Armin Laschet

Candidate for the chairmanship of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party Armin Laschet gestures as he takes part in a discussion at the party’s headquarters in Berlin on January 8, 2021. – Germany’s conservative CDU party will pick a new leader on January 16, 2021 from three candidates: moderate Armin Laschet, arch-conservative Friedrich Merz and outsider Norbert Roettgen.

CHRISTIAN MANG / POOL / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTIAN MANG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Armin Laschet is the man of continuity pledging to keep the party where it is: in the middle ground and staying on the “Merkel”-track. 

He is a seasoned politician and the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, the federal states with the highest population in Germany. 

He wants to modernize Germany and transform the CDU into a younger party with more female representation. He is partnering up with Jens Spahn, the country’s health minister, and one of the youngest leading politicians in the country. 

If he wins the race, the CDU would most likely enter into a coalition with the Green Party or into a so called “Jamaica coalition” which would add the Liberals into the mix.

Norbert Röttgen

Candidate for the chairmanship of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party Norbert Roettgen speaks as he takes part in a discussion at the party’s headquarters in Berlin on January 8, 2021. – Germany’s conservative CDU party will pick a new leader on January 16, 2021 from three candidates: moderate Armin Laschet, arch-conservative Friedrich Merz and outsider Norbert Roettgen.

CHRISTIAN MANG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Norbert Röttgen is the least likely winner but could gain quite some ground in the polls if head-to-head against Laschet. 

The trained lawyer currently heads up the foreign affairs committee of the Bundestag. He too wants to modernize the CDU but with a greater impetus on the environment, which he thinks will urge the younger generations to vote for the party. That makes him — if he wins — also predestined for a coalition with the Green Party.