Who might the next Chancellor of Germany be, with this set to be Angela Merkel’s final year in office? As a political battle rages in Germany, Dominik Michalik walks us through the candidates:

We are currently just a week away from CDU’s leadership elections which will begin on the 15th of January and will last until the 17th of January. The results will be announced on the 22nd of January. The winner will replace Angela Merkel, who has dominated German, and EU, politics, for close to two decades.

1,000 CDU delegates will elect their next leader, who will likely be the next Chancellor although it’s still too early to say whether the person who will be elected leader next week will become the Chancellor after this years federal elections. The chances that you have heard all of these surnames are slim (I might be wrong): Merz, Laschet, Röttgen, Spahn, Söder. One of these people might become the leader of EU’s biggest and most influential country at the end of this year, while three of the mentioned people are running to be the leader of EPP’s most influential member.

Armin Laschet, Norbert Rottgen, Friedrich Merz – these are the three men who next week will ask CDU delegates for their votes. You might ask – but didn’t the CDU elect their leader not long ago? Yes, the CDU did elect a new leader after Merkel resigned from the position, they elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) known as ‘mini-Merkel’.

AKK socially is more conservative than Merkel, but economically she is more to the left. Before becoming the CDU leader she was the state Premier of Saarland. She resigned early in 2020 after it appeared that she has lost control over what was going on in the party, following a vote weeks earlier in Thuryngia where the CDU voted along with AfD and FDP to install a liberal state Premier in that state. This decision broke the CDU’s ‘golden rule’ – that is: no co-operation with AfD. AKK was criticised for not being able to control the party and at one point even Merkel had to step in and bring things to order in the party.

So who are the three men running for CDU’s leadership and what do they stand for?

Armin Laschet: currently the state Premier of North Rhine Westphalia. In 2017 he managed to lead the CDU to victory and took the most populous German land from the centre left SPD. In so doing, he achieved something which wasn’t quite easy to do for the CDU. His views are very much in line with Angela Merkel. In this sense, he is the continuity candidate. The one point of difference might be Russia – he is much more softer on Russia than Merkel. He also supports economic co-operation with China, is pro-EU, has defended Merkel’s migration policy, supports the continuation of the construction of Nord Stream 2 pipeline and wants to revive relations with Mediterranean North African countries. He is also open o a coalition with the greens (Grüne) after the federal elections, that is if the CDU and Grüne numbers make up a majority in the Bundestag.

Norbert Röttgen: known as ‘the diplomat’ since 2014 he is the chair of Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee. He is liked by CDUs establishment and older members. He supported Joe Bidens bid for US President, is against the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. He supports a US and EU approach to China. Röttgen was an outspoke critic of how the Chinese authorities treated the protestors in Hong Kong.

Fredrich Merz: businessman, lawyer, the leader of CDUs Bundestag faction. Merz, compared to Merkel and the two other candidates is more to the right. He favours more of a free-market approach when it comes to the economy, calling for debt limits and tax cuts. He is a longstanding Merkel rival, and he has criticised her for her migration policies and blamed the high unemployment rate on mass migration. After Navalny’s poisoning, which he believes was at the hands of Putin, he has called for the construction of Nord Stream 2 to be stopped, his views on China are more hawkish – he lately has called for a EU wide policy on China. He described the AfD as ‘openly nazi’.

So will one of them become Chancellor after this autumns federal elections?

Well, not necessarily. There are talks within the CDU/CSU about who the blocs candidate for Chancellor should be. The two most commonly mentioned names are Jens Spahn and Markus Söder. Spahn currently holds the position of Health Minister, he is known for his much more conservative views than the ones of Merkel, he is also openly gay. Söder is the leader of CSU and the State Premier of Bavaria, his approval rating at one point reached 90%+ in Bavaria. He is most commonly knows as a modern type of a conservative, and, if he becomes the blocs candidate for Chancellor, he will be the third CSU man in history running for the position of Chancellor.

How are the current CDU leadership candidates polling?

Among CDU members Merz is polling on top with Röttgen just behind him and Laschet last far behind both Merz and Röttgen. Latest prediction of the 1,000 delegates votes gives Merz a lead with Laschet in second place and Röttgen third.