BERLIN (Reuters) - Several senior German conservatives called on Saturday for their party to shift to the right to win back voters, throwing down the gauntlet to Chancellor Angela Merkel before she announces her choice of cabinet ministers on Sunday.
The Christian Democrats (CDU) vote at a party meeting on Monday on whether to back a coalition deal with the Social Democrats (SPD), which would hand Merkel a fourth term at the top of a grand coalition and keep them in office for another four years. SPD members also have to vote on the agreement.
Although the CDU is widely expected to back the deal - and approve Merkel's ally, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, as CDU general secretary - there are rumblings among conservatives that the party needs fresh blood and a new political direction.
"Sometimes the conservative element of the conservative bloc could be more prominent," CDU premier of the state of Schleswig Holstein, Daniel Guenther, told the Neue Osnabruecker newspaper.
Senior Bavarian CSU conservative Alexander Dobrindt told the Passauer Neue Presse: "The conservative bloc must cover the spectrum from the center to the democratic right."
Merkel has drawn most criticism for a bailout of Greece in the euro zone debt crisis and her open-door migrant policy.
Her six cabinet picks from her CDU will send a signal about the direction of policy in the next four years. Long-standing ally Peter Altmaier is widely tipped to take over the economy ministry and Ursula von der Leyen to keep defense.
One question is whether Jens Spahn, 37, an arch-conservative state secretary in the finance ministry, who spoke out against Merkel's refugee policy, will get a post.
The CSU and SPD will announce their cabinet posts later.
The conservatives bled support to the far-right in the Sept. 24 election, slumping to their lowest level since 1949.
Merkel has positioned the CDU in the center ground. She has promised "renewal" in her team to ward off party critics.
But many are looking to a post-Merkel era. Handing the ministries of finance and foreign affairs to the SPD to secure a coalition deal further undermined her authority.
Merkel took a step towards grooming a successor by announcing Saarland state premier Kramp-Karrenbauer, 55, as her choice for CDU secretary general.
Dubbed "mini-Merkel" by media, Kramp-Karrenbauer may not be different enough for some in the party.
However, her Catholic, western German background contrasts with Merkel's Protestant, eastern roots. While socially conservative, known for opposing gay marriage, Kramp-Karrenbauer is a strong supporter of the minimum wage and workers rights.
Merkel needs SPD members to vote 'yes' in a postal ballot for a renewal of the 2013-2017 grand coalition. The outcome, to be announced on March 4, is unclear.
If SPD members reject the deal, the most likely scenarios are a new election or a minority government.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Janet Lawrence)