Laschet gets CDU backing in race to succeed Merkel as chancellor

Party leader shrugs off opinion polls favouring Bavarian rival Söder for nomination

CDU leader Armin Laschet and CSU leader Markus Söder. On Sunday, Mr Söder announced  he was ready to go up against his coalition ally in the  race to succeed Angela Merkel following federal elections on September.  Photograph: Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg

CDU leader Armin Laschet and CSU leader Markus Söder. On Sunday, Mr Söder announced he was ready to go up against his coalition ally in the race to succeed Angela Merkel following federal elections on September. Photograph: Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg

 

Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) backed its leader Armin Laschet on Monday to lead this year’s federal election campaign, increasing pressure on its Bavarian allies to fall into line.

Mr Laschet, party chairman since January, shrugged off unfavourable opinion polls that raise questions over the CDU’s prospects of staying in power and favour his Bavarian rival Markus Söder.

“What makes the CDU stand out is that it is not led by polls,” he said. “One must approach politics with a view that one doesn’t look at polls – that has been my successful approach in the past and will be in the future.”

Mr Laschet insisted it was “time to decide” on this year’s election campaign and said he would speak on Monday evening to Mr Söder, leader of the CDU’s sister party, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU).

On Sunday Mr Söder said he would yield if the CDU decided against his candidacy, a nod to tradition and political realities: the CDU has 200 seats in Berlin’s Bundestag while the allied CSU has just 46.

Unanimous backing

But on Monday afternoon, hours after the CDU vote, CSU officials gave their leader unanimous backing, too, and Söder’s allies told journalists they were still “at the start of consultations”.

“This is no longer about with whom we will govern but whether we will govern,” said Mr Söder to his party. That was a nod to the CDU/CSU’s sliding support, down nearly 10 points in a month amid frustration over graft revelations and the vaccination rollout.

Consistently more popular than Mr Laschet in polls, the CSU leader is pushing for a broad party vote that would favour him.

Anticipating that, Berlin CDU officials said on Monday they would set up a 10-member ad hoc body – with five members from each party – to resolve the rivalry.

After weeks struggling with pandemic policy, Mr Laschet gave a short address on Monday summing up his campaign pitch to voters. With an eye on the post-pandemic era, he promised to balance the priorities of German industry with climate protection and to make his party equally attractive to young city dwellers and older rural voters. A Laschet administration, he said, would prioritise a return to growth with “serious budget politics” after a phase of crisis deficit spending.

Multilateral solutions

As a chancellor “with a European understanding of my office”, Laschet will lead an administration that would work quickly to find multilateral solutions to the bloc’s post-pandemic challenges.

After losing a recent public row with chancellor Angela Merkel over lockdowns, Mr Laschet insisted on Monday that he favoured a tougher restrictions – steered centrally from Berlin – to break Germany’s third wave of Covid-19.

“All want a quick decision, all the facts are on the table. The problems we have are so great that we cannot preoccupy ourselves with party politics,” he said.

Mr Laschet also promised a full investigation – once the infection peak had passed – into Germany’s pandemic failures, in particular how tackling Covid-19 was slowed by a massive backlog in digitising the country’s administrative processes.