Merkel’s ‘ERG’ exposed: How German Chancellor is crippled by Theresa May-style party feud

Merkel has received calls from some in her party to step down immediately despite pledging to do so by 2021. In an attempt to secure her legacy, the German Chancellor hoped that key ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer would continue in her role as leader of the ruling Christian Democratic Union Party. But she instead stepped down earlier this month opening up the party’s leadership bid to those taking a more reformist approach. One of the leading candidates to succeed Merkel is fellow party member Friedrich Merz – a businessman who has returned to politics aiming to push the party to the right.

He has received backing from a key faction within the Christian Democratic Union Party – the Values Union – a self-described “grassroots conservative movement” and a bulwark against Germany’s “dominant left-wing ideology”.

The group wants restrictive immigration policies and Merkel’s immediate departure.

In 2018, the group’s leader, Alexander Mitsch said Merz “has the potential to give the party a clear profile again”.

Another anti-Merkel figure, prominent former MP Wolfgang Bosbach said that Merz should be the person to replace the embattled Chancellor.

He said: “The new leader has to give new impetus and momentum to a dispirited party. I think Friedrich Merz is the most likely to do this.”

While Mrs Merkel has confirmed she will depart government in 2021, her legacy could be dashed in a similar fashion to Theresa May and her downfall in the Conservative Party.

Mrs May took over as leader of the Tories after the 2016 referendum, tasked with one objective – get a Brexit withdrawal deal through Parliament.

Just as Merkel is attempting to do so in her own party today, May was also dealt with the challenge of uniting warring factions in her party.

But just as the Values Union have consistently challenged Merkel, May also endured constant criticism from a group within her party during Brexit talks with the EU – the European Research Group (ERG).

The eurosceptic group opposed the Prime Minister’s approach, with the incoming Deputy Chairman resigning from Government after claiming the Chequers agreement “did not accord with what was put to the cabinet” a few days earlier.

In September 2018, ERG member Mark Francois warned Mrs May that if she presented her Chequers deal to Parliament, he and his group allies would vote it down.

He said: “We’ve yet to know what the final deal looks like but if it is based on Chequers then myself and my colleagues in the ERG could not vote for Chequers because we believe it doesn’t represent Brexit.

“We would like the Prime Minister to change tactic and to move towards a more Canada-style free trade agreement. We think that has many, many advantages for the UK.”

The push for such a deal would never wane, as Mrs May presented her withdrawal agreement to Parliament three times, rejected every step of the way even when some ERG members eventually voted for it in fear that Brexit may never happen.

May resigned in July 2019, and Boris Johnson took over to enjoy more success – overcoming crushing defeats in Parliament to win an 80-seat majority in December’s General Election and take the UK out of the EU.

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The right of the Conservative Party ultimately prevailed, a conclusion that will concern Chancellor Merkel in Germany as more rivals circle on her position.

Mr Merz has previously derided Merkel’s “lack of leadership”, and has called for his party to take a different approach.

Earlier this month, speaking at a party event in Hamburg, he argued for “plain speaking” and tax cuts to restore his party’s strength.

He said: “We must have the courage to contradict, to be controversial. If we want to get more than one third of the vote we have to be better than we are right now.”

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