Friedrich Merz takes over as leader of the German Christian Democrats

ANGELA MERKEL lethargy blanketed Germany like a ‘carpet of fog’, Friedrich Merz raged in 2019. There was never love lost between the German ex-Chancellor and the man she drove out of a high-level position in the conservative Christian Democratic Union (UDC) in 2002. With his tail between his legs, Mr. Merz left the Bundestag in 2009, only to reappear nine years later to compete for the post of party leader that Mrs. Merkel had vacated. His candidacy delighted UDC members looking for conservative red meat. But moderates found his arrogance off-putting. His bid failed, as did another one last year.

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But in September, the winner of this second competition, Armin Laschet, led the UDC and its Bavarian sister party to electoral defeat. Now licking his wounds in the opposition, the UDC finally turned to Mr. Merz, who takes the lead this weekend. Once known as a macho tax cutter with a taste for teasing political correctness, Mr. Merz, 66, now presents himself as a moderate. He promises to woo women, gays and young voters, and to pursue social justice.

Will this convince skeptics? UDC the centrists seem ready to hold the fire, although some deputyI am so suspicious of the ultras around Mr. Merz that they considered leaving the party. The right wants him to strike the alarm clock. “We need a confident civic politics that … takes a clear stand against the excesses of identity politics,” says Christoph Ploss, a young UDC deputy who has long supported Mr. Merz. The new leader’s first test comes in several state elections this year.

In the next federal election in 2025, Mr Merz hopes to lead the Conservatives’ bid to unseat Olaf Scholz, the chancellor. For now, it will focus on core issues such as jobs, industrial change and inflation, now at its highest level in three decades. Merz says the European Central Bank needs to follow the Federal Reserve and prepare to raise rates. That the ECB is independent does not matter. Mr. Merz wants to dispel the fog.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “A not very new broom”

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