AKK under fire over election campaign ‘censorship’ comments

The leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party has come under fire after she proposed a debate be held over whether opinions expressed before an election should face regulation.

AKK under fire over election campaign 'censorship' comments
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Monday. Photo: DPA

Critics have accused Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer of discussing “censorship” and of failing to take responsibility for the CDU’s heavy losses in Sunday's European elections. The CDU and its Bavarian sister party CSU won 28% of the vote — a drop of more than seven percent compared to the 2014 vote.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, known as AKK in the German media, made the comments in reference to a YouTube video posted by influencer Rezo. In the 55-minute clip called “The destruction of the CDU”, Rezo accused the government coalition, which includes the centre-left Social Democrats, of making policies “for the rich” while failing to act on crucial issues like global warming.

READ ALSO: German YouTuber shakes up mainstream politics with viral video

Published online on May 18th, the video has been viewed millions of times, throwing Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party into crisis-fighting mode.

CDU politicians initially hit out at Rezo accusing him of false claims or oversimplifying the issues, before taking a more conciliatory tone, inviting him to meet them and talk.

AKK, however, remained a harsh critic, asking if the CDU should also be held responsible for the plagues that had occurred Egypt.

On Friday, Reza's message became stronger after some 70 popular YouTubers joined him in a riposte explicitly telling voters to shun the parties in Merkel's coalition ahead of the elections.

“What would actually happen in this country if, say, 70 newspapers decided just two days before the election to make the joint appeal: 'Please don't vote for the CDU and SPD'?” Kramp-Karrenbauer, Chancellor Merkel's successor as CDU leader, said on Monday after committee meetings with her party.

“That would have been a clear case of political bias before the election.”

German YouTuber Rezo. Photo: DPA

Kramp-Karrenbauer said there were important questions to be addressed in this topic, including: “What are the rules that apply to opinions in the analoge sphere? And which rules should apply in the digital sphere?”

These are questions “we will discuss – not just in the CDU… rather, I'm quite sure, they'll play a role in discussions surrounding media policy and democracy in the future,” she said.

READ ALSO: The winners and losers: Six things to know about the EU election in Germany

'AKK should resign'

Kramp-Karrenbauer's comments sparked an outcry and calls for her resignation.

Free Democrats chairman Christian Lindner wrote on Twitter: “AKK is considering the regulation of opinions expressed before elections…I can hardly believe that. On the contrary, we need more open debates, even in social media.”

Niema Movassat, parliamentary director of The Left parliamentary group in the Bundestag, called Kramp-Karrenbauer's remarks an “unprecedented attack on freedom of expression”. The CDU leader “should resign immediately”, she said.

High profile Alternative for Germany (AfD) politician Georg Pazderski said: “After the bitter CDU electoral defeat in the EU elections, AKK is bringing censorship of the Internet into discussion before elections.” He accused the CDU leader of focusing on this topic out of fear ahead of state elections in eastern Germany later this year, where the AfD is set to make huge gains, reported the Tagesschau.

The Greens parliamentary party leader in the Bundestag, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, said: “I believe that AKK should not blame others for the CDU result. Those who don't tackle the climate crisis will lose.”

Kramp-Karrenbauer later said in a Tweet that it was absurd to “accuse me of wanting to regulate expressions of opinion”.

She added: “Freedom of expression is held highly in democracy. But what we have to talk about are rules that apply in election campaigns.

“When influential journalists or YouTubers call for people not to vote, or even the destruction of centrist democratic parties, it is a question of political culture. It is the centrist parties who defend democratic values every day.”

Video shakes up German politics

In the video, Youtuber Rezo, who said he and his colleagues had spent weeks meticulously researching the CDU and the CSU, said the government, which includes the centre-left Social Democrats, was “destroying our lives and our future”.

In a message aimed at the coalition, Rezo said: “[If] you say that young people should be political, then you have to handle it when they think your politics are shit.”

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.