18 Dec 2018

New CDU chairwoman is not Merkel’s girl

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the newly elected chairwoman of the Christian Democrat Union (CDU), is repeatedly referred to as “Merkel’s girl” in German media articles.

Johanna Wild
Johanna Wild Wafana, Germany
New CDU chairwoman is not Merkel’s girl - NewsMavens
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 2018, Wikimedia Commons

After the CDU experienced several setbacks during recent state elections, Angela Merkel announced in late October that she will not remain the CDU party chairwoman and will step down as chancellor in 2021.

Since then, three candidates competed to succeed Merkel as party leader. Health minister Jens Spahn, the youngest of the candidates and an outspoken critics of the UN migration pact. Friedrich Merz, a former Merkel rival who left politics in 2009 and who quickly became the favourite candidate for all those within the party who thought that Merkel’s policies had been too centrist or leftist. And Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, prime minister of the state of Saarland from 2011 to 2018 who embraces partly conservative and partly liberal positions. While she opposes same-sex marriage and wants to tighten migration, she also advocates for employee-friendly work conditions and the minimum wage.

It was the latter who won the race at the congress of the Christian Democratic Union in Hamburg on December 7, receiving 517 votes from the eligible delegates compared to Merz’s 482 in a run-off after Jens Spahn did not get past the first round of voting.

Kramp-Karrenbauer is generally considered a Merkel ally in the German public, particularly since the chancellor suggested her for the position of CDU secretary general in February 2018, an office Merkel held herself between 1998 and 2000 before becoming CDU chairwoman in 2000 and chancellor in 2005.

Her closeness to Angela Merkel has been taken as an opportunity by German media to nickname Kramp-Karrenbauer “mini-Merkel” or even “Merkel’s girl”, as a reference to the fact that Merkel herself was often called “Kohl’s girl” in the early years of her career before she publicly dissociated herself from the long-term German chancellor of the 1980s and 1990s.

Already in 2012, a Süddeutsche Zeitung article about women in the CDU referred to Kramp- Karrenbauer as one of “Merkel’s girls”.

In February 2018, an opinion piece published about the politician in the Hannoversche Allgemeine had the headline “Merkel’s girl“. The same applies to another piece by Frankfurter Allgemeine with the only difference that this time it was formulated as a question (“Merkel’s girl?”). The Augsburger Allgemeine asked “Is Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer only ‘Merkel’s girl’ or will she soon overtake her boss?”. The list could be easily extended to more examples.

Without directly referring to the “Merkel’s girl” expression, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer clarified in her speech at the CDU congress in Hamburg on December 7 that she is not happy with the way she is pictured in the media.

“I read a lot about what I am and how I am. Mini. A copy.“, the 56-year-old said. “Dear delegates, I stand here as I am and how life has formed me and I am proud of that”.

After describing herself as a mother of three, the politician continued to point out her past achievements: “I stand here as former Interior minister, minister of education, minister for social affairs, and prime minister, who has served her country and the people in this country for more than 18 years, who has learned during those 18 years what it means to lead.” And she added: “I stand here as somebody who together with you experienced and won hard election campaigns, not despite being how I am but because I am how I am.”

The day after, on December 8, the newspaper taz headlined an article about her election victory “A girl again”. In a text in the magazine Cicero the question was raised “Did CDU do itself a favour by voting for ‘Merkel’s girl’?”. In addition, Marian Bracht, a member of the national executive board of the Young Christian Democrats (Junge Union) collected in one of his tweets several examples of headlines that were describing the politician as a child, including “Merkel’s girl is doing it!” and “Merkel’s girl is triumphing.”  

The presented headlines and text excerpts are a salient example of how female politicians are still portrayed differently than their male counterparts in German media articles. By calling her a “girl”, the 56-year-old Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is pictured as a child who could only manage to climb the career ladder because she got help from someone else. Her male competitors, however, do not seem to need such support. Despite the speaker of the German parliament Wolfgang Schäuble pronouncing himself in favor of Friedrich Merz, the candidate was never portrayed as “Schäuble’s boy” during his election campaign. In fact, we could not find any example of male politicians being presented as “the boy of...” in German media.

By suggesting that only female politicians need patrons to succeed in politics, they are shown as less capable than men who are pictured as being able to find their career path by themselves. Therefore, we rate the selected media coverage on Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as biased reporting and biological determinism.

Due to the fact that Karrenbauer served as the prime minister of Saarland and held several ministerial positions -- her public image is still reduced to merely being Merkel’s protégé therefore we also rate the headlines of the presented media articles as an example of invisible history.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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