New German opposition leader Merz consolidates his power

BERLIN (AP) — The new leader of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right party was elected Tuesday as head of the main opposition bloc's parliamentary group, consolidating his power as he tries to get the party back into shape after a disastrous election result.

Friedrich Merz replaced Ralph Brinkhaus as head of the Union bloc's parliamentary group, the most prominent job the party has in opposition.

It's a job that the 66-year-old held two decades ago, also in opposition. Merz is a one-time rival and longtime critic of Merkel, and has a more conservative image than the former leader.

He led the center-right group in parliament from 2000 to 2002, when Merkel pushed him out of that job. He left parliament in 2009, later practicing as a lawyer and heading the supervisory board of investment manager BlackRock’s German branch.

Merz returned to parliament in the September election. He was then elected as leader of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, by far the bigger of the two parties in the Union bloc.

Merz became party leader at his third attempt after predecessor Armin Laschet led the Union to its worst-ever national election result in September. New Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose center-left Social Democrats narrowly won, put together a three-party coalition that sent the center-right bloc into opposition.

Brinkhaus last month cleared the way for Merz by agreeing to give up the leadership of the parliamentary group.