On Friday, December 7, Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as party leader. “AKK,” as she is known, is liberal on economic issues, conservative on social issues, and once called for the Roman Catholic Church to ordain a “quota” of female clerics. Here are the facts you need to know.
What happened at Friday’s CDU party leadership vote?
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer narrowly won the delegates’ vote to become party leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in a narrow, two-round election. She defeated the more conservative Friedrich Merz, a self-described “committed European and trans-Atlanticist,” by a vote of 517 to 482. (Health Minister Jens Spahn, who ran as an immigration skeptic, had been eliminated in the first round.)
In her acceptance speech, she hailed the CDU as a party that “drew people from all political realms into the middle” and vowed to assure it “remains the great, common Volkspartei of the center.” The election of AKK, sometimes dubbed a "mini-Merkel," makes it likely Merkel will complete her fourth term as chancellor in 2021.
Who is “AKK”?
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, kept her maiden name out of respect for her father, who died just before her marriage. The media regularly shorten her eight-syllable-long name to “AKK.”
AKK joined the Christian Democrats in 1981 as part of its youth division, then serving as deputy leader of the women’s organization. In 2010, she was elected to the national committee.
One year later, she was elected state premier of Saarland, a coal mining region of one million people located in southwestern Germany near France. She has held that position since 2011. Last year, she scored 40 percent victory over then-rising Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz, outperforming the CDU’s national average by eight percent.
On February 26, 2018, she was elected general secretary of CDU, the position Merkel held before becoming chancellor, with 99 percent of the vote.
What is her economic policy?
Der Spiegel describes AKK as “from the Union’s left wing.”
Kramp-Karrenbauer has suggested the federal government should take more than half the earnings of most productive earners in taxes. In 2013, she advocated raising the top marginal tax rate by 11 percent, from 42 percent to 53 percent – a greater tax hike than those proposed by the Social Democrats or the Green Party. “From my point of view, a return to the previous level should be possible,” she said. That caused a free-market politician, Rainer Bruederle of the FDP, to call her a “Socialist varnished in black,” the color of the CDU.
She has called for the government to “relieve” retired Germans who receive smaller pensions by paying health costs out of the general treasury.
AKK also said “reintroducing the draft or general compulsory [national] service” is “worth considering” after a “listening tour” of Germany.
However, she exercises comparative advantage inside her family. “My husband and I had a very pragmatic agreement right from the start: whoever earns more works full time,” she said. “So, we switched the classic roles,” and her husband, Helmut, raised their three sons.
Where does she stand on social issues?
AKK is well to Merkel’s right on social issues. She would uphold the government’s ban on advertising abortion. “An abortion is not a gallbladder” operation, she has said. She told Der Spiegel, “I think it is necessary for us to make clear once again what the bedrock of our party is, namely the Christian view of humanity.”
She also opposes same-sex marriage and adoption. In June 2015 she said, "If we open up this definition to become a long-term responsible partnership between two adults, then other demands can't be ruled out, such as a marriage between close relatives or between more than two people.”
What is her position on immigration?
AKK supported Merkel’s invitation for all Middle Eastern refugees who could reach Germany to make the trip in August 2015. This triggered migration by 1.4 million Middle Easterners to Europe, some of whom have been guilty of crime or terrorism, or are linked to ISIS. The decision fractured relations within the European Union and saw a significant number of CDU voters siphoned off by populist rival party AfD.
Kramp-Karrenbauer has accused Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany, or AfD) of “harboring … radical elements on the far right that are anti-Semitic, that support historical revisionism, and that are racist. She added that the party represents a “threat to Jewish life in Germany.”
Immigration is “not issue number one,” AKK has said. While it is impossible to “reverse what happened in 2015,” she will “make sure that what happened in 2015 would not happen again.”
She has said that criminal migrants and those whose applications are rejected should be deported to their country of origin. (German law currently bars returning Syrian asylum-seekers to that nation.) She has backed mandatory medical age tests for migrants who claim to be underage and called on immigrants to integrate into German culture.
How would she approach foreign policy and the transatlantic alliance?
Kramp-Karrenbauer supports the EU and the transatlantic alliance and seems more hawkish than Merkel. “We must promote European unity,” she has said. She would likely continue Merkel’s policies toward Russia – although she has suggested reducing the flow of natural gas through the Nord Stream2 pipeline. She has called for Germany to take “a greater share of responsibility” in foreign affairs, with a concomitant policy of “increasing spending” on defense.
She has promised to “ensure that anti-American sentiments do not gain force” inside the nation and to “make clear that we continue to value our transatlantic friendship.” However, she has a skeptical view of President Donald Trump. Campaigning on Friday, AKK said Germany faces international threats from “egoists and autocrats.”
She strongly supports the state of Israel, saying that “Israel’s security is part of Germany’s raison d’être. And that raison d’être must be made evident anytime Germany engages in political debates about current political issues in Israel.”
What about her Roman Catholic faith?
AKK often describes herself as a devout Roman Catholic and belongs to the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), a lay Catholic organization.
However, she opened a rift with her church in May when she told Christ & Welt that she supported female ordination. She said she could even “imagine a quota of women in the Catholic Church.”
“What is missing from them, that they cannot receive this consecration?” she asked, suggesting women first be admitted to the diaconate. While she admitted this would break more than a millennium of tradition, “the Catholic Church would not perish,” and many ecclesiastical rules are “shaped by institutions, not by Jesus.”
Cardinal Walter Brandmüller responded that anyone who supports women’s ordination “fulfils the elements of heresy which has, as its consequence, the exclusion from the Church – excommunication.”
(Photo credit: Olaf Kosinsky / kosinsky.edu. This photo has been cropped and modified for size. CC BY-SA 3.0.)