Merkel joins Laschet for last-minute German election push

Chancellor weighs in as polls show her CDU closing gap on the SPD before Sunday’s vote

German chancellor Angela Merkel with her would-be chancellery successor Armin Laschet on Tuesday. Photograph: Getty

German chancellor Angela Merkel with her would-be chancellery successor Armin Laschet on Tuesday. Photograph: Getty

 

Chancellor Angela Merkel launched a last-minute push on Tuesday to secure a fifth term for her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) after polls showed the party’s position improving before Germany’s federal election on Sunday.

On Tuesday evening in the Baltic Sea city of Stralsund, the constituency she won eight times in succession since 1990, Dr Merkel hosted Armin Laschet, CDU leader and her would-be chancellery successor. On Wednesday the two travel to Aachen in the southwest, Mr Laschet’s home town, for a campaign stop and walkabout.

“It’s a good sign that the chancellor is intervening in the campaign,” said Mr Laschet ahead of the visit, citing a “good tradition” established in 2017.

Then as now he was trailing in polls and seemed unlikely to win the state election in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). Days later he confounded polls – and critics – by becoming premier of Germany’s most populous state.

“Because it was successful, that recipe, we’re using it again,” said Mr Laschet in Berlin. “This race is open like never before and we are playing catch-up. One thing is clear, this election will be decided on election day.”

In 2018 Dr Merkel stood down as CDU leader and insisted her fourth term would be her last as chancellor. She also vowed to stay out of the election campaign – but has changed her mind amid pressure from CDU allies as their party slid in polls to below 20 per cent.

In a final Bundestag address two weeks ago, Dr Merkel told MPs that a new government led by Mr Laschet would give Germany “stability, reliability, moderation and the middle ground”. 

This week’s joint campaign appearances with Mr Laschet – a third follows on Friday in Munich – comes as the CDU closes the gap in polls to the leading Social Democratic Party (SPD). 

A Bild/Insa poll from Monday put the SPD steady on 25 per cent with 22 per cent for the CDU, up one point. A second poll on Tuesday for RTL television from Forsa paints a similar picture: 25 per cent for the SPD, with the CDU up two points to 21 per cent. Given a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points for both polling agencies, and erratic poll predictions in the past, CDU leaders hope they can still win on Sunday.

Election promises

As well as a Merkel bonus, Mr Laschet’s election team is focusing on eastern states in the final days. With one in five eastern Germans undecided, the CDU has presented tailor-made election promises for them: a push for more doctors in eastern towns and more state agencies in the region to create jobs.

“We understand ourselves as the party for the rural regions of Germany, they are responsible for our economic strength,” said Mr Laschet, accusing his political rivals of focusing only on city dwellers.

The CDU hopes to repeat across the region its June success in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, when it defied expectations to come out on top with nearly 30 per cent of the vote.

The current poll numbers make one of two coalitions most likely after Sunday: an SPD-led alliance with the Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP), or a CDU-led alliance with FDP and Greens.

Mindful of previous errors, Germany’s polling agencies are cautious about any firm predictions based on their numbers.

“It’s not a real trend for the CDU,” insisted Manfred Güllner, head of Forsa. “But some undecided voters are coming back to them.”

Insa chief executive Hermann Binkert agrees that the CDU could yet activate dormant supporters, saying: “Both Armin Laschet and Olaf Scholz could be chancellor.”