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Germany Prepares to Choose Merkel’s CDU Successor

The powerful Christian Democratic Union party selects a new leader and likely successor to Angela Merkel. Can they avoid a repeat of their last attempt?

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A woman places a sign on the lectern as people prepare the CDU party conference studio for the party's digital conference and leadership contest in a hall at Berlin Messe fairgrounds.
A woman places a sign on the lectern as people prepare the CDU party conference studio for the party's digital conference and leadership contest in a hall at Berlin Messe fairgrounds.
A woman places a sign on the lectern as people prepare the CDU party conference studio for the party's digital conference and leadership contest in a hall at Berlin Messe fairgrounds.

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party chooses a new leader, the Indian government meets with farmer’s unions for a ninth round of talks, and North Korea shows off its new missiles.

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Merkel's CDU Gathers to Choose New Leader

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party chooses a new leader, the Indian government meets with farmer’s unions for a ninth round of talks, and North Korea shows off its new missiles.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Merkel’s CDU Gathers to Choose New Leader

The next chair of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and possibly the next leader of the country, will be decided over the next two days, as 1,001 party delegates meet virtually to select a successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel as party leader.

The last attempt to replace Merkel was something of a false start. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer had been elected CDU leader in 2018 only for the party to suffer its worst ever showing in European parliament elections (her public fight with a Youtuber did not help). Kramp-Karrenbauer resigned her post in February of last year, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed the selection of her replacement.

The three candidates this time around guarantee the next CDU leader will be a man from the state of North Rhine Westphalia. Armin Laschet, the CDU’s deputy leader and Merkel’s preferred option, goes up against Friedrich Merz, who came second to Kramp-Karrenbauer in 2018, and Norbert Röttgen, the current chair of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee. (Sudha David-Wilp, writing in Foreign Policy, takes an in-depth look at each candidate).

Merz, a traditional conservative and former executive at the BlackRock investment firm, currently leads in polls of CDU voters. Last February, in a Foreign Policy profile of Merz, Peter Kuras highlighted what a pronounced rightward shift his selection would signal, as party members seek to head off challenges from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Söder so good. Germany’s next chancellor won’t necessarily be decided by this weekend’s vote, however. A YouGov poll taken in early January shows Markus Söder, the president of Bavaria and member of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU, as by far the top choice; 26 percent of those polled supported Söder, while Merz came a distant second with 8 percent. Tellingly for September’s elections, 47 percent said either none of the above or were undecided.

Merkel’s legacy. No matter who wins, they will not only have to live up to German expectations, but the world’s too. For the third year running, Germany topped a Gallup poll where respondents were asked to rate their approval of a country’s leadership. A Pew poll of 14 countries, taken in the summer, showed confidence in Angela Merkel was at all time highs.


What We’re Following Today

Ninth time lucky? Indian Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Food Minister Piyush Goyal, and Industry Minister Som Prakash will hold a ninth round of talks with representatives from 41 farmers’ unions today in New Delhi amid ongoing protests against proposed agricultural reforms.

The meeting comes after India’s Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the bill and established a review committee, which farmers unions have dismissed as biased. FP’s Katie Livingstone, writing on Wednesday, explained the events leading up to Tuesday’s Supreme Court move.

Troop drawdown deadline. Today is the deadline for large U.S. troop reductions in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with a full withdrawal from Somalia as per a Nov. 17 announcement by U.S. President Donald Trump. Troop numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to fall to 2,500 in each country.

A provision in the recently passed U.S. defense bill bans using funds to allow for troop numbers to fall below 4,000 in Afghanistan absent acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller submitting a “comprehensive, interagency assessment of the risks and impacts,” to Congress, although Reuters reports the drawdown will continue regardless.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Abdi Yusuf argues that withdrawing from Somalia will only increase al-Shabab’s power to launch attacks.

North Korea’s new weaponry. North Korea paraded what state media described as the “world’s most powerful weapon” as it showcased new submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The display of military might comes at the end of a rare ruling party congress where leader Kim Jong Un pledged to boost the defenses while admitting the last five years have been the “worst of the worst” for the country.


Keep an Eye On

Overheating. 2020 was the hottest year ever recorded, according to NASA calculations, as scientists blame the increasing buildup of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. The record differs from the conclusion reached by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who said that 2020 was the second hottest year. Regardless of rankings, the seven hottest years on record have all taken place in the last seven years. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said the news was “a precursor of more to come.”

Yemen’s famine risk. Humanitarian experts have warned the United Nations of a wide scale famine in Yemen, affecting millions, if the U.S. designation of Yemen’s Houthi insurgents as a terrorist group goes ahead. The designation is scheduled to come into effect the day before President-elect Joe Biden assumes office. Mark Lowcock, the emergency relief coordinator for the United Nations, said that licenses and exemptions—touted by the Trump administration as a way for humanitarian groups to continue working—were insufficient and the only way to prevent famine was a complete reversal of the U.S. decision.

Vaccine passports? Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has proposed establishing a vaccine passport in order to allow those who have received the jab to travel freely around the European Union. The proposal is expected to be discussed at a virtual meeting of EU leaders next week. Greece’s tourism-dependent economy would receive a boost from any increase in travel, however Mitsotakis’s plan is opposed by other European governments, including Berlin.


Odds and Ends

Save my life, spare my toilet. The U.S. Secret Service has been renting a $3,000-per-month studio apartment near the property of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner to use as a restroom after the couple banned agents from using any of their six bathrooms, the Washington Post reports.

The unusual expenditure was necessary after several backup plans fell through. Agents had been using a spare bathroom in former President Barack Obama’s garage, as he lives a few houses down from the Kushners, before they were banned by Obama’s security detail after one agent allegedly left behind “an unpleasant mess.” A port-a-potty set up outside the Kushner property was removed after residents complained, while journeys to the residence of Vice President Mike Pence were deemed too far.

Although the revelation is an embarrassment for the Secret Service and Kushner family, the story highlights the more urgent problem of access to public toilets in the U.S. capital. The D.C. Department of Human Services lists just seven public facilities in the entire downtown area.


That’s it for today. 

For more from FP, visit foreignpolicy.com, subscribe here, or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or corrections to morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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