Angela Merkel‘s old foe Friedrich Merz said that Germany had become “too sluggish” under its veteran leader, as the three candidates for the Christian Democratic Union party leadership met in Berlin for the first hustings on Saturday evening.
Mr Merz, a pro-business millionaire who has been out of frontline politics for the best part of two decades, argued that the government has dropped the ball on issues such as digitalisation and clean energy technologies.
“This country has become too slow, we have become too sluggish,” he said, complaining that a lack of digitalisation in schools had been exposed during the pandemic.
The 64-year-old is up against the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, and foreign policy expert Norbert Röttgen.
Mr Röttgen is only seen as having an outside chance of winning the vote among party delegates at the party convention on December 4th.
Mr Laschet, a centrist and close confidant of Ms Merkel, told the meeting that he was the man to continue the success that she had brought Germany.
The leadership race takes place just two years after the last contest to take over the dominant party of German post-war politics.
The woman who won on that occasion, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, beat Mr Merz in a closely fought contest. But she stood down at the beginning of this year after failing to reverse slumping polling figures.
It was just a few weeks after her resignation that the party’s fortunes were turned around because of strong public approval for how Berlin managed the coronavirus pandemic.
Unusually, the public’s favourite to take over from Ms Merkel is not a member of the CDU. Instead Markus Söder, leader of the Bavarian CSU, a sister party to the CDU, is enjoying strong polling figures thanks to his safety-first approach to the pandemic.
Mr Söder, state premier in Bavaria, has however signalled that he does not intend to run for the top job.