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.

SPD's Nahles not mentioned

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.

Angela Merkel's potential successors as chancellor

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, CDU

Kramp-Karrenbauer, also known as AKK, was Merkel's choice to become general secretary of the CDU in 2018. She is reputedly Merkel's pick as a successor as party leader. AKK headed a CDU-SPD coalition as state premier in the small southwestern state of Saarland before becoming the CDU's general secretary. She is considered a moderate who would continue Merkel's centrist policies.

Angela Merkel's potential successors as chancellor

Jens Spahn, CDU

The 38-year-old is the youngest and most overtly determined Merkel usurper. He entered the Bundestag in 2002 and became Germany's health minister in 2018. Spahn, who is openly gay, is popular in the CDU's conservative wing. He opposes limited dual citizenship for young foreigners, criticized attempts to loosen laws on advertising abortions and called for banning the Burqa in public.

Angela Merkel's potential successors as chancellor

Friedrich Merz, CDU

The former leader of the CDU/CSU grouping in the Bundestag has been out of frontline politics since leaving the Bundestag in 2009. But the 62-year-old announced his intention to replace Merkel within hours of the news that she would be stepping down. Merz reportedly fell out with Merkel after she replaced him as CDU/CSU group leader in 2002. He has been a chairman at Blackrock since 2016.

Angela Merkel's potential successors as chancellor

Armin Laschet, CDU

Laschet became state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2017. His win marked a major defeat for Social Democrats in Germany's 18 million-strong "coal" state. He has ruled out running as CDU head while Merkel remains chancellor. But he has hinted that he may announce his candidacy once Merkel has stood down, which would make it possible to occupy both posts simultaneously.

Angela Merkel's potential successors as chancellor

Julia Klöckner, CDU

Klöckner became agriculture minister in 2018 and has been CDU chief in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate since 2011. In 1995, before entering politics, she became Germany's "Wine Queen." Like Spahn, she belongs to the CDU's conservative wing. She raised eyebrows in 2016 when she proposed an alternative plan to Merkel's refugee policy.

Angela Merkel's potential successors as chancellor

Peter Altmaier, CDU

Altmeier, known as "Merkel's bodyguard," has supported the chancellor's centrist policy platform on multiple fronts. Originally from Saarland, Altmaier first worked for the European Union before entering the Bundestag in 1994. The former environment minister turned economy minister is renowned for his kitchen diplomacy and being a stickler for policy detail.

Angela Merkel's potential successors as chancellor

Ursula von der Leyen, CDU

Von der Leyen became defense minister in 2013 after serving a stint as labor minister. Despite her reform efforts, defense spending remains stubbornly low and the military continues to suffer from widespread equipment shortages. Von der Leyen, who studied in the United States and Britain, supports a larger role for Germany abroad and improving links between national armies in the European Union.

Angela Merkel's potential successors as chancellor

Volker Bouffier, CDU

Volker Bouffier has been the premier of the central state of Hesse since 2010. He formerly served as the state's interior minister and has twice "won" Big Brother awards from German data privacy advocates for propagating closer surveillance methods by police. The 66-year-old currently heads a CDU-Greens state government in Hesse and is a deputy chairperson in the national CDU executive.

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.

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"Two terms, eight years — I think that wouldn't be too bad," Schröder said.

Schröder criticized some members of his party for not being more open to talks with Russia — Schröder has also been criticized for his close ties to the Kremlin

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.

The former chancellor has been criticized for his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as for taking a seat on the board Rosneft, the state-owned Russian energy giant. He's also currently the chairman of the board for the Russian-German gas pipeline project Nord Stream.

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The 'Merkel diamond'

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?

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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.

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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.

The many faces of Angela Merkel

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.

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Curious about the digital age

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The many faces of Angela Merkel

The preacher's daughter

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The many faces of Angela Merkel

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.

The many faces of Angela Merkel

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.