Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has plunged into chaos, with Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) suddenly resigning as party leader and announcing she will not be a candidate for Chancellor in next year’s federal election.
After little more than a year in office, AKK, an active Catholic and a member of the Central Council of German Catholics, has been unable to stop the CDU’s decline. She became leader in December 2018 as the chosen successor of veteran Chancellor Angela Merkel. An initial polling bounce for AKK, who brought a fresh face to Merkel’s consensual style, soon faded.
With the CDU hitting a record low in June’s European election, her leadership seemed to be gaffe-prone, with party grandees briefing that she might be replaced.
The final trigger for her resignation was a government crisis in the small eastern state of Thuringia. In last October’s regional election the CDU dropped from first place to third, behind the ex-communist Die Linke party of state premier Bodo Ramelow, and the anti-immigration populist Alternative for Germany (AfD). No government could be formed without either Die Linke or the AfD, and the CDU has a policy of refusing to work with either the hard left or hard right. In addition, the Thuringian AfD is led by Björn Höcke, a rabble-rouser widely seen as one of their most extreme figures.
With no coalition having a majority, local CDU leader Mike Mohring went rogue and, against AKK’s express orders, entered talks with Ramelow about cooperation with a left-wing government. When those talks broke down, Mohring voted with the AfD to bring down Ramelow. This has backfired badly – no alternative government could be formed, new elections are likely, and polls are showing the CDU losing much of its support as Die Linke surges.
AKK’s inability to control a regional party branch is a symptom of Germany’s wider fragmentation. The CDU has ceased to be the country’s dominant force, and its Social Democrat coalition partners have collapsed. Any successor to AKK will have to grapple with the same intractable problems.