Candidates to replace Merkel (l-r): Friedrich Merz, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Jens Spahn
Mrs Merkel announced last month that she was stepping down as leader of the CDU but controversially insisted she would stay on as the German premier.
Three leading candidates have emerged to replace her and the winner is widely expected to become the most powerful person in Europe with analysts questioning whether Mrs Merkel will be able to hold on to power until her term ends in 2021.
Mrs Merkel’s favoured candidate, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, is neck and neck in the polls with businessman and lawyer Friedrich Merz who is returning to politics after being out in the cold for more than a decade.
However Jens Spahn, Germany’s health minister, is an outspoken critic of Merkel who has also thrown his hat into the ring and is growing in the polls.
But what have the candidates said about Brexit and what are their visions for the future of the European Union after the United Kingdom leaves on March 29, 2019?
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has called for a stronger Germany-France focussed EU
Pro-EU candidate Annegret Kramp-Kartenbauer has ambitious plans for the European Union and it is not surprising she hopes to strengthen Berlin’s grip at the heart of the bloc.
Currently serving as the CDU’s Secretary General, she has been nicknamed the “mini-Merkel” by the German press for her loyalty to the current chancellor.
Known as AKK, she is well-liked on both the left and right of her party for her support of workers rights and traditional Roman Catholic family values.
She hopes to ally with France to make the bloc Franco-German-centric after Brexit but has made it clear she will not compromise on German interests.
The 56-year-old wants to increase European co-operation and strengthen the European Central Bank.
She told a business conference hosted by German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung this week: ”With every wish to take Europe forward with a German-French nucleus, the proposals must always fit with German interests.
She also said Europe must move towards a banking union but “first the risks must be minimised so that it is acceptable in German interests as well.”
Friedrich Merz is neck and neck with AKK in the polls to replace Angela Merkel
Previously a senior MP in the party, Mr Merz quit the party in the early 2000s after Angela Merkel became leader and consolidated her power.
The 62-year-old is socially conservative and economically liberal and has been outspoken on Brexit, saying the EU is at a “threshold” and warned the UK’s exit will cause huge problems for the bloc.
Speaking at a discussion panel on Europe’s growth challenge earlier this month, Mr Merz said: “We have to tell the people in this country that the Germans have to contribute more than others to the success of the European Union.
“We have to do more than we are actually doing because if Europe fails – and this is a clear option, no one can deny it, Europe is really at the threshold at the moment – if Europe fails, the Germans will be those who suffer most from that.
“Let’s face it, we are benefiting from the monetary policy which most of the people in this country do not want. But we benefit from it, fundamentally.
“And this currency, which is in the meantime too weak for our economy, is still too strong for most of the others.
“We are benefiting within the European Union, within the internal market, but beside that we are benefiting in international trade – towards China, towards the US, towards other regions in the world – from this currency policy.”
Merkel critic Jens Spahn is an outside candidate to replace the German chancellor as CDU leader
One of Mrs Merkel’s most vocal critics in the CDU, Jens Spahn, has slammed Germany’s open door policy while still being pro-EU.
The 38-year-old health minister made his feelings on Brexit clear when he spoke to the BBC in 2017.
On the EU’s negotiations with the UK, Mr Spahn said: “We want to have very strong relations economically, culturally and politically with the UK but there can’t be any cherry picking.
“Whoever wants to have access to the internal market needs to accept the freedom of movement for example.
“But between the framework of the internal market and the World Trade Organisation framework there is so much room actually for compromise.
“First of all you need to settle the divorce.
“This will be the mother of negotiations, one of the biggest negotiations there has ever been in the world between states.
“There’s a lot of work to do to get away the uncertainty for so many people and so many businesses affected lets find a way to have a very strong relationship economically and politically after.”