BERLIN – A former competitor of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who wants to replace her at the head of Germany's Conservative Party, said Wednesday he wanted to renew the party and establish close relations with the Western democracies, but without demanding a radical overthrow current policy.
Friedrich Merz, a corporate lawyer and former parliamentary leader of the Merkel Conservatives, said he could get along with the chancellor, even though he had recently gone out of politics with the chancellor almost ten years ago. Good cooperation with the Chancellor would be crucial to support the party for the political agenda of the ruling coalition.
"We need revival and renewal, but no overthrow," Merz said in a press conference without commenting on it. Mr. Merz is one of three candidates for a successor to Mrs. Merkel, who said this week she would seek no re-election as party leader and end her fourth term as Chancellor by 2021
Mr. Merz, who represents the conservative wing of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), was from 1994 to 2009 German legislator and served from 2000 to 2002 as a group leader of the Conservatives. He lost office to Mrs. Merkel after becoming party leader.
Many political analysts say that the Chancellor would not be able to resign from office if he becomes CDU chairman in a December party convention.  Asked about his past differences with Mrs. Merkel over a decade ago, Merz said that political differences sometimes have to lead to divisions. "I am firmly convinced that Angela Merkel and I will get along under these changed conditions."  A Merz leadership underlines his views from the market and low tax point of view, which make him popular among companies. He works at the law firm Mayer Brown LLP, which advises German and international blue chip companies and acts as supervisory board chairman of the German entity of the asset manager BlackRock Inc.
Mr. Merz & # 39; change from politics to business and back would mean a rare step in Germany. However, critics say his fortune and business relationships may provide opponents with too much ammunition as anti-elitist enthusiasm grows.
On Wednesday, Merz said little about his economic policy goals, except that he sought a prudent fiscal policy and helped strengthen the participation of ordinary Germans in the stock market.
Regarding Europe, he said that French President Emmanuel Macron deserves a better response to his European proposals for reform than was given by Mrs Merkel. "We have to talk about the key issues of the future of the European Union," he said. "The biggest challenge is keeping the Eurozone together. This will be the biggest challenge for Europe in the coming years. "
Merz also promised to win back voters who turned left and right at the edges. "We must not allow voters to join such populist movements and be seduced by them into frustrations or disappointment with the established parties," he said.
Merkel's decision to open the borders for hundreds of thousands of refugees in 2015 triggered the rise of the far-right alternative for Germany. Mr Merz did not comment on his attitude towards migrants.
The other two contenders for the party leader are Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Jens Spahn.
Kramp-Karrenbauer, a former Saarland Prime Minister and Secretary General of the CDU, is well-connected and popular in the party. Mr. Spahn, Germany's Minister of Health, is an aspiring star in the conservative wing of the party and one of the earliest and loudest critics of Ms. Merkel's migration policy.
Write to Andrea Thomas at andrea.thomas @ wsj.com