German conservative launches 3rd bid to lead Merkel's party

A prominent conservative has joined the race to become the leader of outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, making his third bid for the job.

Friedrich Merz, 66, was nominated for the leadership by his local branch of the center-right Christian Democratic Union on Monday evening, a move that was widely expected. He is the third candidate in the race to succeed Armin Laschet, who led the party to defeat and its worst-ever election result in September.

Norbert Roettgen, a former environment minister who has chaired parliament's foreign policy committee in recent years, and Merkel's chief of staff, Helge Braun, threw their hats in the ring on Friday. Both are centrists, while Merz has generally appealed more to traditional conservatives.

The CDU, which is expected to go into opposition once a new three-party coalition government is in place, has decided to hold a ballot of its entire roughly 400,000-strong membership on the party leadership.

A first round of voting, by online and mail-in ballot, will be held in early December. If a runoff ballot is required, that would be completed in mid-January. A party congress Jan. 21-22 would officially sign off on the result.

The outcome is hard to predict, but Merz has a substantial following among CDU members and may fare better in the ballot than he did at party conventions in late 2018 and in January. He lost by fairly narrow margins first to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and then to Laschet.

Merz has experience of being an opposition leader. He led the center-right group in parliament from 2000 to 2002, when Merkel pushed him out of that job, before leaving parliament in 2009 — later practicing as a lawyer and heading the supervisory board of investment manager BlackRock’s German branch. He returned to parliament in the September election.

Follow AP’s coverage of Germany’s transition to a new government at https://apnews.com/hub/germany-election