The three candidates — Friedrich Merz, Armin Laschet and Norbert Röttgen — agreed to the date for the party congress, CDU general secretary Paul Ziemiak announced on Twitter. It was originally scheduled for December 4 but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This agreement is a strong signal for cohesion in our party,” he wrote after talks with outgoing party chief Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.
North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Armin Laschet, corporate lawyer Friedrich Merz and foreign affairs expert Norbert Rottgen are vying for the post.
The candidates have proposed an online congress if meeting in person were to be impossible because of restrictions to curb coronavirus transmission.
The chief of the CDU traditionally leads it and its smaller Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union to the polls.
The chosen candidate would have a strong claim on the post of chancellor and be in pole position to replace Merkel should the conservative bloc win next year’s election.
Merkel protege Kramp-Karrenbauer took over as leader of the party in 2018, after the veteran chancellor said she would not seek a new mandate at next year’s polls.
“Unity in the CDU is important for Germany, particularly in such difficult times,” Ziemiak said. He said the candidates hoped to be able to hold the meeting in person, but that it may take place digitally.
The CDU is polling well after its relatively successful handling of the pandemic. However, infection rates are soaring and voters are bracing for a second partial lockdown and a difficult winter.
Former businessman and conservative Merz, 64, is polling better than both Laschet, 59 — who is premier of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and more liberal — and Röttgen, 55, a foreign policy expert. But the party elite favor Laschet.
The CDU is the largest party in the Bundestag and leads Germany in a coalition with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democrats (SPD).
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The open accusations are unusual for the traditionally disciplined party, prompting current chairwoman Kramp-Karrenbauer to urge the candidates not to engage in “discussions that damage the CDU as a whole,” in comments to Der Spiegel news magazine.
After Saturday’s announcement, Merz said on Twitter that he “very much” welcomed the agreement: “It is a good compromise that we have agreed on today.
Laschet also declared on Twitter that the CDU needs “clarity for the next year.”
“Our joint proposal serves this purpose,” he added.
Röttgen too said he was very pleased “that we have come to a good solution for the federal party congress together.”