Friedrich Merz’s bid to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel as chair of her Christian Democratic Union received his biggest boost yet as Wolfgang Schäuble, the former finance minister, endorsed him two days ahead of the party convention.

“It would be best for the country if Friedrich Merz got a majority,” said Schäuble in an interview with daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published on Wednesday. The comments are a setback for Merkel, who is widely believed to support Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a moderate like her whom she anointed as her successor earlier this year.

Some 1,001 CDU delegates are due to cast their ballots at the party convention on Friday in Hamburg. Merz, a former Merkel rival who left politics a decade ago, and Kramp-Karrenbauer, also known as AKK, are running neck-and-neck.

The patriarch speaketh

Although polls show AKK is more popular than Merz among the party base and the broader German public, Merz is believed to enjoy wider support with CDU party delegates. Many party officials are yearning for the CDU’s conservative roots after years of centrist policies imposed by Merkel.

“We need the CDU to have a more clear-cut profile, we need to get on well with the CSU,” said Schäuble, evoking the rocky relationship between Merkel’s CDU and her Bavarian ally, the CSU, which is also markedly more rightwing. Months of conflict between both “sister parties” have damaged both and prompted Merkel to step down as CDU boss in October in the wake of a series of election setbacks. She has led the party for 18 years.

“Friedrich Merz is a man who sends clear signals with clear concepts, who has the courage to not just wait for the end of a discussion, but to shape it instead,” Schäuble added in a thinly veiled jab at Merkel’s pragmatic brand of politics, which many of her critics have mocked as indecisive and muddled. He also said Merz’s conservative stance would “weaken the political extremes,” referring to the far-right party Alternative for Germany, to which many conservative voters have defected under Merkel.

Such a ringing endorsement from Schäuble just two days ahead of the convention is certain to lift Merz’s fortunes. Schäuble was Merkel’s finance minister during the momentous years of the euro crisis and is now the president of the Bundestag, the lower chamber of parliament. At 76, the veteran politician is seen as a patriarch within the CDU.

Intrigues and backstabbing

Many in Germany see Merz’s bid to succeed Merkel as a quest for personal revenge. Merz was one of the country’s most senior figures, the head of the CDU’s parliamentary group in the Bundestag, until Merkel ousted him in 2002. He left politics in 2009 and went on to become a senior executive with BlackRock, amassing a fortune in the process.

And Schäuble’s endorsement of Merz also has a whiff of vengeance. Both men are good friends — and Schäuble was also a victim of Merkel’s intrigues in her quest for power two decades ago. In 1999, she penned a column in that same daily, in which she turned against Schäuble, one of her political mentors.

Political pundits believe that if Merz were to become the CDU’s next chairman, this would be problematic for Merkel and would be likely to bring about her downfall before her fourth term as chancellor ends in 2021.

But Schäuble painstakingly stressed that this wasn’t the desired outcome. In his interview on Wednesday, he noted that the current government was elected for another three years. “I made the decision to be loyal to Angela Merkel. And Friedrich Merz will too,” he told Der Tagesspiegel another daily.

But few believe that a Merz win in the CDU convention would be great news for Merkel. Most pundits believe that as a party chairman, he would be sure to further weaken the chancellor’s grip on power. The best outcome for Merkel on Friday would be for Kramp-Karrenbauer to prevail.