Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, speaks during a news conference at the CDU headquarters in Berlin, Germany. (Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)

Angela Merkel's Fiercest Rivals Are Coming Back to Haunt Her

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(Bloomberg) -- In Angela Merkel’s moment of weakness, some of the fiercest rivals she sidelined during her ascent to the German chancellery are back to haunt her.

Time was when Merkel might have fit the scary parody on a carnival float that rolled through the streets of Dusseldorf this week: a black widow spider with blood dripping from her mouth, surrounded by the skulls and bones of past political enemies and a banner reading “Next, please.” These days, her concessions to stay in office are making the chancellor a target herself.

That means it’s payback time for critics such as Roland Koch, a one-time German state premier who now heads UBS Europe’s supervisory board, and Friedrich Merz, who once led Merkel’s caucus in parliament. Both lost power struggles in the Christian Democratic Union and now accuse Merkel of clinging to power and selling out what the party stands for.

“Merkel is under pressure like never before,” said Ulrich Sarcinelli, a political scientist at the University of Koblenz-Landau in western Germany. The level of criticism by current and former CDU grandees over her planned government alliance with the Social Democrats is remarkable for a party that rarely attacks its leaders in public, he said.

Succession Demand

While old foes sniping from the sidelines are less of a threat to Merkel than restive young CDU members, the party’s historic decline in last year’s German election and her pledge to let the Social Democrats run the Finance Ministry in her next government make her unusually vulnerable.

A measure of support for Merkel as chancellor in public broadcaster ARD’s regular poll has been slipping since September’s election. The latest survey of 1,001 voters published on Thursday showed only 50 percent want her to remain in charge, down from 61 percent at the start of October.

Koch, 59, a social conservative who was one of Merkel’s biggest critics before leaving politics, joined others in the CDU who are urging her to announce a successor.

“She owes voters an answer to the question of who will be the next generation which assumes responsibility,” the former premier of Hesse, a region that includes Frankfurt, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

‘This Humiliation’

Merz has had a bone to pick since Merkel ousted him as caucus leader in 2002 when the CDU was the main opposition party. She took on the post, giving her a platform for a successful run for the chancellery three years later.

Now supervisory board chairman of BlackRock Inc.’s German asset management branch, Merz, 62, blasted the coalition deal that Merkel says is necessary to end more than four months of political stalemate.

“If the CDU accepts this humiliation, then the party has given up,” Merz told Bild, Germany’s most-read daily newspaper.

Norbert Roettgen, whom Merkel fired as environment minister in 2012 after blaming him for a state election defeat, told Der Tagesspiegel the CDU has suffered a “draining of content” under her leadership.

Merkel, 63, doesn’t intend to engage with her same-generation critics, partly because their views are well-known, according to a person familiar with the chancellor’s thinking who asked not to be identified. However, she will heed calls to appoint younger CDU personnel to prominent positions, the person said.

Merkel’s Twilight?

Contenders include Jens Spahn, 37, a deputy finance minister in the last government who is critical of Merkel’s liberal refugee policy. Others are Carsten Linnemann, 40, an economist who sees the CDU’s pro-business credentials at risk, and Julia Kloeckner, 45, a regional party leader often cited as a possible Merkel successor.

Merkel gave a first hint in a television interview on Sunday, saying “we’ll do everything possible” to promote fresh faces. She pledged to present cabinet candidates in time for a party convention on Feb. 26.

CDU delegates in Berlin will be voting on the coalition pact, though its final approval depends on a poll of the SPD’s more than 460,000 members that wraps up on March 2.

While it’s a sign of the times that Koch, Merz and other male rivals defeated by Merkel are speaking up, their criticism is unlikely to sway events, said Sarcinelli, the political scientist.

“This is more like a murmur in the chancellor’s twilight,” he said. “They’ve been out of politics for a long time now.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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