Merkel's favoured successor to become German defence minister

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, widely seen as Merkel's chosen heir, will become Germany's next defence minister

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's favoured successor and the head of her CDU party will become the country's next defence minister, an official statement said Tuesday, after Ursula von der Leyen was elected European Commission president.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, best known to Germans as "AKK", will be appointed on Wednesday during a handover in Berlin with her predecessor von der Leyen and the first vice president of the Bundesrat upper house, which confirmed the news in a statement.

Von der Leyen, who had served as defence minister since 2013, will step down to become the first woman to hold the EU's top job after MEPs narrowly backed her in a Tuesday vote.

Before Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is widely seen as the chancellor's chosen heir, was announced as the new minister, Merkel had said there would be a "very fast replacement".

"The defence ministry, the defence minister, hold command and military authority. We cannot leave this post empty for long," she said.

It will be the first ministerial post for Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was born in Saarland, near the French border, and has become a leading figure in German politics.

Sometimes called "mini-Merkel", she has been poised to take over as chancellor since becoming CDU chief in December after Merkel announced she would not seek another term when her current one ends in 2021.

However the 56-year-old's appointment to the difficult post on Tuesday evening came as a surprise to some, after she came under strong criticism for the CDU's poor results in May's European Parliament election.