German businessman to challenge Angela Merkel for party leadership in sign of building threat to Chancellor

Two candidates have announced they intend to challenge Angela Merkel for the leadership of her Christian Democrat party (CDU) amid growing uncertainty over her future as chancellor of Germany.

Andreas Ritzenhoff, a businessman who is a newcomer to politics, and Jan-Philipp Knoop, a 26-year-old student, have both said they will run for the CDU leadership at the party conference in December.

While both candidates are rank outsiders with little chance of unseating the veteran chancellor, the challenge is a sign of growing discontent within the CDU over her leadership.

If they succeed in forcing a contest, it is possible a more realistic rival may be tempted to take on Mrs Merkel. 

“It seems urgently necessary to me for the CDU to formulate new political goals that can give it a noticeable change of direction,” Mr Ritzenhoff said as he announced his candidacy on Wednesday.

“I’m worried about what’s going on in Germany, Europe and the western world. I see a threat to the economic power, the prosperity, the security and last but not least the freedom of culture and the spirit of our population.”

The 61-year-old entrepreneur is not an MP and has little in the way of a political base to mount a challenge. A latecomer to politics, he only joined the CDU earlier this year. 

He runs his own aluminium company in the Hesse region which supplies the cosmetics industry, among others.

Mr Knoop, the other challenger, is just as much an outsider. A Berlin law student, he announced his candidacy via a Facebook post last month.

“Politics is losing credibility and trust by the day,” Mr Knoop said. “There is no clear leadership to be seen. I can understand the people who feel they are no longer represented by politics.”

For either candidate to mount a leadership challenge to Mrs Merkel at the party conference, they must first secure the nomination of one the party’s regional associations — something neither of them has yet managed to do.

But there are already whisperings Mrs Merkel could face a more serious rebellion at the party conference in December. Her hold on the party is visibly weakened after MPs rejected her candidate to lead their group in parliament last week and chose a rebel candidate instead — a moment veteran politicians have described as “blood in the water”.

Her coalition government has appeared paralysed by internal disputes in recent months. She faces key regional elections in Bavaria and Hesse this month and if the polls are right the CDU and its Bavarian sister party could see heavy losses.

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