Germany’s Merkel says she won’t weigh in on successor

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed Tuesday that she will keep out of a debate on who should be her center-right political bloc’s candidate to become Germany’s next leader after a state governor whose poll ratings shot up during the coronavirus pandemic gave her a grand reception in Bavaria.

Merkel visited Herrenchiemsee palace — an opulent 19th-century edifice on a lake island inspired by France’s Versailles — at the invitation of Bavarian governor Markus Soeder. Her trip fed speculation about jostling in her Union bloc to run for chancellor in Germany’s next election, expected in the fall of 2021. Merkel, Germany’s leader since 2005, says she won’t seek a fifth term

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party plans to choose a new leader, its second since Merkel stood aside in 2018, in December.

Three high-profile contenders are vying for the job and with it, a chance to be nominated as the center-right candidate for chancellor.

But the pandemic hasn’t helped them. Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, was a vocal advocate of easing infection-control restrictions and has been criticized for his crisis management. Rivals Friedrich Merz and Norbert Roettgen don’t have government jobs and have had little chance to make an impact.

That has put the spotlight on Soeder, the leader of the Christian Social Union — the CDU’s Bavaria-only sister party. Recent polls have shown Soeder, who locked down his state in early March and has advocated a cautious approach to reopening, far ahead of the others among voters.

Soeder has deflected questions about his future by saying that his place is in Bavaria. But he also raised eyebrows by suggesting recently that only someone who has proven himself in a crisis could run for chancellor — and by inviting Merkel to Tuesday’s Bavarian Cabinet meeting at Herrenchiemsee. No sitting chancellor had previously attended one.

Soeder stressed their “common conviction of (the need for) prudence and caution.”

Asked whether Soeder has what it takes to be chancellor, Merkel said she was exercising “particular restraint” on her succession and wouldn’t comment. She said she’d be happy to visit the Cabinets of other German states.

“I can only say that Bavaria has a good governor and he invited me today,” Merkel said. “You’re not going to hear more from me.”

No Christian Social Union candidate has previously become Germany’s leader. The party provided the center-right’s candidates in 1980 and 2002, but both lost to incumbent center-left chancellors.

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