End of an era: Merkel passes torch to new party leader

Friedrich Merz former German Christian Democratic Union faction leader left Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer General Secretary of the CDU and Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn right all members

Merkel has led Germany since 2005, and moved her party steadily toward the political centre. The politician is a supporter of the German Chancellor's policies and has been often referred to as Mrs Merkel's "protege" or even "Mini Merkel".

Now the head of Germany's largest party, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, could become the next German chancellor.

AKK beat corporate lawyer Friedrich Merz, 63, who had quit politics in 2009 after losing a power struggle against Merkel and long nursed a grudge against the more centrist chancellor.

Merkel, 64, told the CDU congress in Hamburg of her gratitude for the chance to have served as party chief for 18 years, 13 as chancellor in which she came to dominate European politics as its key crisis manager and consensus-builder. What she has said about the Merkel era became something of a slogan for her candidacy: "One cannot arbitrarily continue in the same vein, neither can one dismiss it".

German conservative Annegret Kramp Karrenbauer wins over 51 percent of the party's vote.

The new CDU leader will be chosen by 1,001 delegates who vote at the congress later on Friday.

Pointing to the rise of populism worldwide and what she called a breakdown of shared Western values, Merkel said the order she had championed was at risk.

Outlining the multiple challenges facing Germany, from rapidly changing technology to climate change and a global shift away from multilateralism to defending national interests, she said: "In times like these, we will defend our liberal views, our way of life, both at home and overseas".

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A survey by pollster Infratest dimap for broadcaster ARD on Thursday showed 47 per cent of CDU members favoured Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer compared with 37 per cent for Mr Merz and 12 per cent for Health Minister Jens Spahn.

While she generally supported Merkel's open-door policy towards migrants, she has admitted that grave mistakes have been made, and has pushed for a ban on refugees with criminal convictions being allowed back into Germany.

"I hope we emerge from this party conference well-equipped, motivated and united", Merkel said.

TRT World's Ira Spitzer has more details from Hamburg.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's party is meeting to elect a new leader who could help shape Germany's political direction for the next generation. More generous family leave, an exit from nuclear power and an end to military conscription are among her signature policies.

At present, the center-right bloc is polling around or below 30 percent.

The party has long languished in Merkel's shadow and could well decide to jump ship before 2021 to seek to avert further vote debacles - a move that would nearly certainly trigger new elections.

Regardless of which course the CDU charts, it is ironically the SPD that could decide Merkel's fate.

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