German right to re-elect chief Merkel in show of strength
Germany's conservative Christian Democrats were expected to overwhelmingly re-elect their popular Chancellor Angela Merkel as unopposed party chief at a triumphant congress starting Tuesday.
The two-day meeting of more than 1,000 CDU delegates in the western city of Cologne comes as Merkel, nearing a decade in power in Europe's biggest economy, still coasts on poll figures that are the envy of other world leaders.
Merkel's approval rating was put at 67 percent in the latest survey by public broadcaster ARD.
Fully 56 percent of Germans want Merkel to serve a fourth term as chancellor from 2017, and nearly three-quarters expect her to stand again, said a poll by the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
While many southern Europeans, feeling the pain of the eurozone economic and financial crisis, despise Merkel for preaching tough reforms and austerity, Germans mostly see her as a safe pair of hands steering the country largely unscathed through the years of turmoil.
Merkel, a 60-year-old Lutheran pastor's daughter and trained quantum physicist who was raised in the former communist East Germany, has headed the party since 2000 and has been chancellor since 2005, with no obvious successor in sight.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble this week showered her with praise, comparing her leadership style favourably with that of French 19th century political and military leader Napoleon.
The veteran minister said Merkel had managed better than others among today's European leaders to represent a diverse, heterogenous society, telling the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily: "This is a new form of leadership. It's not the hurray-style of a Napoleon -- but it's more successful."
- 'United behind Merkel' -
CDU meetings have largely become celebrations of the election-winning chancellor, dubbed "Mutti" or Mummy by Germans and often hailed with shouts of "Angie!" by supporters of the party that is now sometimes mocked as the "club for the election of the chancellor".
At the last CDU convention in 2012, she won her seventh term as party chief with 97.9 percent of the vote.
Only the first chancellor of post-war Germany, CDU co-founder Konrad Adenauer, ever scored a full 100 percent, at three successive party conventions in the "economic miracle" years of 1954, 1956 and 1958.
But critics charge that Germany's once vibrant political culture has been suffocated by the rein of mighty Merkel, whose year-old "grand coalition" government has absorbed her vanquished centre-left rivals the Social Democrats, giving both a crushing majority against a tiny leftist opposition.
Similarly, no-one expects major controversy to mar the CDU's latest Merkel celebrations.
As the world looks to wars in Ukraine and Syria, Ebola and climate change, the most contentious issue at the congress was expected to be the decidedly domestic "bracket creep", where wage rises meant to adjust for inflation can bump workers into higher tax brackets, leaving them worse-off.
The broad theme was expected to be a desire to reassert conservative and business-friendly core values in the coalition, where junior partners the Social Democrats have scored points with signature policies such as a national minimum wage and a women's quota in corporate boardrooms.
CDU parliamentary leader Volker Kauder called on the party to present a united and forward-looking front, in comments he made to the DPA news agency.
"We need to send two strong signals," he said. "First: The CDU stands united behind Angela Merkel and her course. Second: We'll create innovation and growth."
© 2014 AFP