BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel's embattled heir apparent sought to silence critics Friday, throwing down the gauntlet for any member of the Christian Democratic Party to challenge her if they didn't like the direction in which she was leading the party.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer's nearly 90-minute impassioned address was met with a lengthy standing ovation at a party convention in Leipzig, where many had expected her to be taken to task after a series of poor results in state elections.
"If you are of the opinion that the path that I want to take together with you is not the right one, then let's say it clearly, let us end it, here and now and today," she said.
"But, dear friends, if you are of the opinion that you want this Germany, if you are of the opinion that we should take this path together ... then let's roll up our sleeves and get going here and now."
Earlier in the speech, she took a dig at her rival, Friedrich Merz, who some had thought might openly challenge her at the convention, as well as others saying that criticizing Merkel's government and the party was "not a good campaign strategy."
Merz recently called the government's image "abysmal" and laid into Merkel's leadership style.
He toned that down in his address to the convention, however, praising Kramp-Karrenbauer for her "scrappy, courageous and forward-looking speech."
"We are loyal to our chairwoman, to our party leadership and to the government," he said.
Merkel has said she won't run for a fifth term in the 2021 election, and didn't stand again as party leader last year, paving the way for Kramp-Karrenbauer's election to the role after narrowly defeating Merz.
Merkel has also elevated Kramp-Karrenbauer to defense minister in a move seen as increasing her profile before a possible run for the chancellorship.
Merkel herself has said she intends to remain in office until the next election, and again emphasized that at the convention before Kramp-Karrenbauer's speech.
Taking the stage 14 years to the day that she became chancellor, Merkel reminded party delegates that since coming to power in 2005 her government had brought unemployment to record lows and weathered the world financial crisis.
But she said with new challenges like digital transformation and the fight against climate change, the party needs to look to the future, while overcoming new pressures like Russian aggression and trade disputes with the U.S.
The party needs "to find solutions for the world of tomorrow," she said, and ensure that it is the party of "Germany's strong center."
"I want to continue to work for that as chancellor," she said.