Merkel dismisses report she’s given up on new party leader

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has dismissed a report claiming she has concluded that the new leader of her center-right party isn’t up to leading the country, and defended her in a controversy over online freedom of speech.

Merkel handed over the leadership of her Christian Democratic Union to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in December and said she wouldn’t seek a fifth term as chancellor.

Her Union bloc had its worst result in a nationwide vote since World War II in Sunday’s European Parliament election. While it easily finished first, its support dropped to 28.9% from 35.4% four years ago.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported, citing two unidentified officials, that Merkel has decided Kramp-Karrenbauer isn’t up to Germany’s top job. The report said Merkel has become increasingly determined to stay in power until the parliamentary term ends in 2021.

Asked about the report after a European Union summit in Brussels late Tuesday, Merkel replied: “I can only say that is nonsense.” She declined further comment.

Kramp-Karrenbauer was widely regarded as Merkel’s favored candidate for the CDU leadership. She narrowly beat Friedrich Merz, a former Merkel rival who stood for a more conservative course, and has since concentrated much of her energy on reconciling centrists and conservatives within the party.

Kramp-Karrenbauer hasn’t had an easy start, most recently heading a flat-footed response to a prominent YouTuber’s viral pre-election rant against the CDU and a subsequent appeal by dozens of YouTubers not to vote for the party.

She drew widespread criticism for remarks Monday in which she asked what would have happened if newspaper editors, rather than YouTubers, had issued a pre-election appeal not to vote for specific parties, adding that there needs to be a discussion of “what are rules from the analog sphere and what rules are valid for the digital sphere.” Critics interpreted that as casting doubt on online freedom of speech.

Merkel defended her. “Everyone I know in the CDU advocates freedom of opinion as a fundamental principle,” she said. “There is no doubt at all about that.”

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