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Pro-Business Merkel Rival Jostles to lead German Conservatives

BERLIN – A former rival of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who tries to replace her in Germany's Conservative Party, said Wednesday…

BERLIN – A former rival of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who tries to replace her in Germany’s Conservative Party, said Wednesday that he would strive to renew the party and establish close ties with western democracies but would not push for radical overthrow of current politics .

Friedrich Merz, a business lawyer and former chairman of the Ms. Merkel’s conservative, said he could agree with the chancellor despite previous clashes that led to his gradual exit from politics almost 10 years ago. Good cooperation with the Chancellor would be crucial to ensuring the party’s support for the ruling coalition policy agenda.

“We need awakening and renewal but not a turn,” Mr Merz said at a press conference without elaborating. 1

9659004] Mr. Merz is one of three candidates to succeed Ms. Merkel, who said this week she would not seek re-election as a party leader and would finish her fourth term as Chancellor in 2021.

Mr.. Merz, representing the Christian Democratic Union’s Conservative Union, or CDU, was German legislature 1994-2009 and served 2000-22 as conservative parliamentary group leader. He lost the post to Ms. Merkel after she became party chairman.

Many political analysts say chancellors could not serve her mandate if he became a CDU chairman of a party convention vote in early December. [19659004] Asked about his earlier differences over a decade ago with Mrs Merkel, Mr Merz sometimes said political differences must lead to separations but that “I really believe that Angela Merkel and I will meet with each other under these changed conditions” 19659008] A Merz’s leadership would emphasize his pro market and low tax views that made him popular with the companies. He works at the law firm Mayer Brown LLP, who advises German and international blue chip companies and serves as Head of the BlackRock Inc. German Unit.

Mr. Merz’s shift from policy to company and back again would mark a rare move in Germany. But critics say that his wealth and business ties could offer opponents too much ammo among rising anti-elite firms.

On Wednesday, Mr Merz said little about his economic policy goals, except that he aimed at careful budgetary policy and helping to increase the usual German participation in the stock market.

On Europe, he said French President Emmanuel Macron deserved a better response to his European reform proposals, then given by Mrs Merkel. “We need to talk about the key issues about the future of the EU,” he said. “The biggest challenges are the euro area together. This will be Europe’s biggest challenge in the next few years.”

Mr.. Merz also promised to win back voters who have turned to the left and right sides. “We must not allow voters to join such populist movements and be seduced by them by frustration or disappointment with the established parties,” he said.

Ms. Merkel’s decision to open the borders of hundreds of thousands of refugees in 2015 helped kick the rise of the right-wing right for Germany. Mr Merz did not comment on his attitude towards immigrants.

The other two challengers of the party helmet are Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Jens Spahn.

Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer, a former state premiere in Saarland and CDU’s Secretary-General, is well connected and popular in the party. Mr. Spahn, German Minister of Health, is a rising star in the party’s conservative wing and was one of the earliest and most statement critics of Ms. Merkel’s migration policy.

Write to Andrea Thomas on andrea.thomas @ wsj.com

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