Ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder calls for term limits, floats Angela Merkel successors in interview
The former German chancellor unveiled his top three picks to succeed Merkel. The interview is likely to unsettle his Social Democrats as one notable person didn't make Schröder's shortlist — the current head of the SPD.
After internal struggles within German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative alliance threatened to topple her government in recent weeks, analysts and politicians have started mulling over who could possibly succeed her.
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder chimed in on the debate in an interview with German news magazine stern on Wednesday, giving his two cents on who he'd like to see in the chancellery after Merkel.
Within Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), Schröder said North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Armin Laschet was best suited to succeed her as chancellor.
"His political concept isn't so bad," Schröder told stern. "He has close ties to the economy, but he also emphasizes societal issues." He added that Laschet would pose a challenge to the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and should be taken seriously. Laschet and the CDU claimed control of Germany's most populous state in May 2017, a major win against the SPD in the immediate build-up to the general election.
Within his own SPD, Schröder said there are two other potential chancellor candidates who also have economic expertise — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and Lower Saxony state premier Stephan Weil — who hails from the same state that made Schröder.
His SPD selection is likely to rock the boat within his party, as Schröder didn't mention the current head of the SPD, Andrea Nahles, as a contender for chancellor.
Traditionally, the chancellor candidate spot is given to the head of a political party — a fact Schröder noted in the interview, without ever mentioning Nahles by name. Unlike the centrist Schröder, former Labor Minister Nahles is considered a left-leaning SPD politician, and also one whose focus has been rather domestic in the past.
Reputedly Merkel's choice as her future successor but lesser known across Germany, Kramp-Karrenbauer headed a CDU-SPD coalition as state premier in Saarland before becoming the CDU's general secretary. Economic development that "leaves no one behind" is one of Kramp-Karrenbauer's policy planks. She also backed Merkel's tolerance toward asylum-seekers.
Hesse's former interior minister, and since 2010 its state premier, has twice "won" Big Brother awards from German data privacy advocates for propagating closer surveillance methods by police. The sports fan, 66, currently heads a CDU-Greens coalition government in Wiesbaden and is one of five deputy chairpersons in the executive of Merkel's CDU.
With a political carreer that has spanned decades, Schäuble is one of the CDU's most experienced members. The 75-year-old former lawyer previously served as interior minister and finance minister under Merkel before becoming president of the German parliament in 2017. Schäuble has managed to walk a fine line of remaining loyal to the chancellor while also criticizing Germany's refugee policies.
At 38, the youngest and overtly determined Merkel usurper, Jens Spahn became an MP in 2002 and later Germany's health minister. "Young, gay and conservative," concluded Stern magazine. The hobby DJ duped Merkel by leading the passage of a resolution at a CDU conference in 2016 to quash limited-category dual citizenship for young foreigners. He's faced critique for remarks on poverty in Germany.
Ursula von der Leyen
Germany's first female defense minister began her career in medicine, studying public health at Stanford University in the United States. Outspoken on family issues, von der Leyen sought gains for soldiers' families and during probes against far-right army suspects her "false esprit de corps" accusation upset some personnel. She also advocates closer EU defense links.
The former "Wine Queen" from Rhineland-Palatinate is Merkel's agriculture minister and formerly studied political science and theology. Her stance tends to be conservative: opposing abortion, embryonic stem cell research and proposing an alternative plan to Merkel's refugee policy.
Germany's interior minister, 68, sparked a political crisis by threatening to take a lone wolf approach to immigration policy. The head of the CSU wants to lure back voters from the far-right in Bavaria's state election in October. The rest of Germany is unlikely to want him as chancellor but his unrelenting objection to Merkel's policies, slated as too liberal, has calmed down conservatives.
Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder has also sparred with the chancellor over migration policy. He's introduced a row of controversial policies in the southern German state, including a plan to more quickly deport rejected asylum-seekers and ordering crosses placed on public buildings. He's also under pressure to win back support from populists in Bavaria's state election in October.
The economy minster's espousal of Merkel's progressive policy mix grates with arch conservatives, for example, during Germany's 2015 refugee crisis. Originally from Saarland, Altmaier first worked for the EU. The former environment minister, now 60, is renowned for his kitchen diplomacy. "Merkel's bodyguard" is a stickler for policy detail and is not averse to "green" ideas.
Avowed European, liberal, but branded by his critics as too nice for politics: Laschet last year became CDU state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia. His win marked a major defeat for Social Democrats in Germany's 18 million-strong "coal" state. The Catholic and former journalist, 57, is also one of five deputies in Merkel's CDU executive — like Bouffier, Klöckner and von der Leyen.
Term limits and dialogue with Russia
Schröder accused Merkel of mishandling the crisis over asylum policy with Interior Minister and head of the Christian Social Union (CSU) Horst Seehofer. Seehofer had threatened to resign over the dispute, but eventually remained in his post following compromises with the CDU and SPD.
When facing an unsolvable conflict, Schröder said a chancellor has two options: "Either they force their opponent into isolation by combining a vote of confidence with a factual issue, or they dismiss the minister."
Schröder took one more dig at Merkel, who served as chancellor for nearly 13 years, calling for chancellor terms to be capped.
"Two terms, eight years — I think that wouldn't be too bad," Schröder said.
Schröder served as chancellor for seven years from 1998 to 2005. He was succeeded by Merkel in 2005 after his SPD lost an early election. Schröder effectively triggered this election, by calling a vote of confidence and then urging his own party not to back his government.
Schröder also criticized current Foreign Minister and SPD politician Heiko Maas for not being as open as his predecessors to talking with Russia.
Merkel has become known for using the same hand gesture at public appearances and in front of the camera, putting her fingertips together to form what some call the Merkel-rhombus – or in German, the "Merkel-Raute." If she has done so consciously or as a routine gesture out of habit is a question that have contemporary critics and journalists puzzled. Just what is she trying to say with it?
A European politician
The German chancellor is known for her commanding and engaged appearance, often appearing quite somber, especially in Europe. Though she has been known to crack a smile at the right time, here, at the recent European leaders summit in Bratislava, she was more composed. To her left is Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke and to her right, the Prime Minster of Belgium, Charles Michel.
Selfie with the chancellor
Merkel has come into the spotlight for her response to last year's influx of refugees.. Questions about her response to the crisis can be answered when elements of her personal life are considered, as Rinke does in his book. She frequently visits schools and refugee shelters and while doing so, takes time out for selfies, as here in 2015 with Syrian asylum applicant Anas Modamani in Berlin.
A juggler in the coalition
As chancellor and head of the CDU party, Merkel faces a bit of difficulty in remaining considerate with some of her working partners. She does not respond with the huffiness her SPD party colleague Sigmar Gabriel is known for. Against attacks by the head of CSU Bavaria, the "archetypical Bavarian man," Horst Seehofer, she responds with cool objectivity.
Curious about the digital age
For trained physicist Angela Merkel, the world of the internet and digital media is said to be relatively foreign, although her team does now have an Instagram account, which is fed by her official photographer. Still, that didn't stop her from grabbing the ear of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at a lunch meeting at the UN in 2015.
The preacher's daughter
The daughter of a Protestant minister, Merkel's values are said by Rinke to have been shaped by her Christian upbringing. In 2016, she was given a private audience with Pope Francis I at the Vatican, where the two exchanged words on their favorite books.
A toast to friendly political relations
Merkel is not known to let it all hang out and, though rare due to her full schedule, celebrations are done in style. In 2013, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Élysee agreement between Germany and France, Merkel invited the entire parliament to toast the two countries' friendly relations over champagne.
A private chancellor
The chancellor gets only a few free vacation moments each year and even when on holiday, as here in Poland, she is not free from the prying eyes of the public. Her husband, Joachim Sauer, also pictured here, is rarely in the spotlight.