German election tightens up amid Laschet warnings

Slide in support for CDU prompts anxious backbenchers to demand leader up his game

German chancellor Angela Merkel and the man who hopes to succeed her as chancellor, Armin Laschet. Photograph: John Macdougall/AFP via Getty

Five weeks before their marriage of convenience ends, Germany’s race to the election altar is tightening up for Berlin’s grand coalition partners.

After starting this year 20 points ahead in opinion polls, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is now neck and neck with the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). Both are on 22 per cent support, according to an Insa poll for the Bild newspaper.

As the downward slide in support for the CDU gains momentum, September’s federal election is building to be the country’s most crucial since at least 2005.

With SPD electoral hopes rising, the poll has triggered further alarm bells within the CDU over its chancellor hopeful, Armin Laschet.


Elected CDU chairman in January, Laschet hopes to succeed four-term chancellor Angela Merkel when she steps down after the September 26th election.

But early warnings of this latest poll overshadowed a weekend rally that, over nearly three hours, generated only restrained endorsements for Laschet.

Merkel told an invited audience at the rally that she had vowed to stay out of the race for her successor. Senior party sources say she was convinced by the Laschet camp – and an eight-point CDU support slump in two months – to change her mind. She backed him as man whose politics were shaped by personal integrity and Christian values and said she was “deeply convinced” Laschet would collect the chancellery keys from her after the election.

Söder cooler

Following her, Bavarian leader Markus Söder, head of the CDU’s sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), was notably cooler on Laschet, the man who beat him to lead the campaign last April.

Söder tagged on a belated endorsement of Laschet at the end of his address – twice as long as his 15-minute slot – which sounded like a warning to the CDU/CSU candidate, listening in the front row.

“It’s tight, it will be very tight, and everyone has to understand from now on that this is about everything,” said Söder.

With the CDU/CSU down nearly 10 points on their 2017 result, itself a historic low, anxious party backbenchers are demanding Laschet up his game – or stand aside.

As CDU/CSU support drains away, increasing the number of alternative coalition options, Laschet has launched a new campaign phase: warning of a left-wing government without his party involved.

An SPD lead coalition with the Greens and the hardline Left Party was a “danger for Germany”, he said, and would “gamble away Germany’s prosperity”.

Struggling to recover from a series of gaffes, Laschet now faces a fresh attack from one of Germany’s most influential video bloggers. Under the name Rezo, the YouTuber attracted 18 million views for his first CDU-critical video two years ago; on Monday his second attracted nearly two million views in its first 24 hours.

In the 22-minute attack he says Laschet is inconsistent in his election manifesto and that CDU ministers are dishonest in power. Such a party is “not up to power”, he told his 424,000 YouTube followers, as its leaders show “failure and shittiness in essential skills that politicians should have in office”.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin