* Chancellor re-elected party leader with record 98 pct of
* Merkel says only CDU can steer Germany through "stormy
* State election next month will set tone for federal vote
By Stephen Brown and Noah Barkin
HANOVER, Germany, Dec 4 Germany's conservative
Christian Democrats (CDU) put on a show of total unity at a
congress on Tuesday, re-electing Angela Merkel as party leader
by a record margin as she prepares to fight for a third term as
chancellor next year.
Merkel, at the height of her popularity, was returned as CDU
chairwoman with 98 percent of votes from delegates who stood and
applauded for nearly eight minutes after she praised Germany's
economic strength amidst the euro zone crisis and promised to
fight for jobs and continued prosperity.
"These are turbulent times and sometimes we find ourselves
in stormy waters. But it is the German CDU that has the clear
direction to steer our country through these seas," said Merkel.
She said repeatedly that hers was "the most successful
government" since German reunification in 1990, a claim
opposition parties have ridiculed but which her allies in
Merkel, a physicist and Lutheran pastor's daughter from East
Germany, has become a towering figure in the CDU, a party that
before her had been dominated by men from western Germany.
One pin being given away at the congress pictured her with
CDU legends Konrad Adenauer, West Germany's first post-war
chancellor, and Helmut Kohl, who led the country to
reunification and was once Merkel's mentor.
Merkel, known to colleagues as Mutti, or mummy, sent a
reassuring message about where she would take Germany if she
wins a third term, a feat accomplished only by Adenauer and
She set out three main goals: equal opportunities for all,
including immigrants; prosperity and job security with a legal
minimum wage; and solidarity for the weaker elements of society,
such as the elderly and depressed areas of the former East
Sarah Kohl, a 23-year-old student who was attending her
first national party congress, credited Merkel with shielding
Germany against the youth unemployment problems haunting other
countries in the 17-nation euro zone.
"As a young person, I can say that I have no fears," she
said, likening Germany under Merkel to "a company that has a
good boss - why should you change the management?"
NO PROBLEM, NO DEBATE
"A leadership debate would be a sign that there is a
leadership problem, but there isn't," Defence Minister Thomas de
Maiziere, one of Merkel's closest allies, told Reuters.
Merkel has a good chance of winning a third term next
September despite a sharp slide in support for her current
coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).
In her speech, Merkel took a dig at the FDP, citing from a
satirical magazine in joking that "God created the FDP just to
Conscious, however, that the CDU needs the FDP to retain
power in a crucial state election next month in Lower Saxony,
she also made clear that she believed her conservatives had much
more in common with their current partner than the Social
Democrats (SPD) or Greens.
Talk of a CDU-Green coalition has grown in the run-up to the
congress, held in the capital of Lower Saxony to try to give a
boost to local CDU leader David McAllister.
He is on track to win the biggest share of the vote but
could still be pushed from power by the SPD and Greens, a result
which could unsettle the CDU faithful before the federal
Merkel did not mention her top challenger, Social Democrat
Peer Steinbrueck, by name but accused his party of being
"obsessed with the past".
MAC'S BEHIND MERKEL
McAllister, whose father was Scottish and whose supporters
waved banners that proclaimed "I'm a Mac!", said his state had
record employment and solid finances thanks partly to the
leadership from Berlin.
"Dear Angela Merkel, we thank you and stand as one behind
you," said McAllister, stressing the message of party unity.
A year ago, at the CDU's last congress in the eastern city
of Leipzig, the euro zone crisis was at a peak and people could
speak of nothing else. At the time, Merkel warned that Europe
faced its "toughest hour" since World War Two.
Now, thanks in large part to European Central Bank President
Mario Draghi's commitment to buy the bonds of stricken euro
states, the crisis has calmed somewhat.
In Germany Merkel is widely applauded for having stuck to
her principles, for example by resisting pressure for radical
anti-crisis steps like the issuance of common euro zone bonds.
"I want the euro to come out of the crisis stronger than
when the crisis began," she told the party congress.
Last week she won a broad majority in parliament for plans
in Europe to ease Greece's bailout terms. Even an acknowledgment
that Greece may yet need more help in the form of a writedown of
European loans does not appear to have done irreparable damage.
In Hanover the CDU was more focused on containing internal
rows on a range of domestic issues. Since she first came to
power in 2005 Merkel has pulled her conservative, Christian
party to the centre and attempted to modernise it.
That has left traditionalists grumbling over a push to give
equal tax treatment to homosexual couples, boost pensions for
mothers and introduce quotas for women on company boards.