Merkel’s potential successor absent from Germany’s virtual village square

Armin Laschet faces his most serious test amid the country’s once-in-a-century flood

Armin Laschet, premier of north Rhine-Westphalia gives a statement after visiting flooded regions in Hagen, Germany on July 15th. Photograph: Friedemann Vogel/EPA

Armin Laschet, premier of north Rhine-Westphalia gives a statement after visiting flooded regions in Hagen, Germany on July 15th. Photograph: Friedemann Vogel/EPA

 

After its once-in-a-century flood, social media in Germany is abuzz with news, appeals and initiatives. Beds for the night, missing person posts and rescued pet videos – everyone and everything are on the virtual village square.

Everyone except Armin Laschet. In two months, the leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) hopes to inherit Angela Merkel’s key to the chancellery.

But as minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia, epicentre of the floods, Laschet now faces his most serious test.

On his Twitter feed, where his last post is from four days ago, the catastrophic flood does not yet exist. Ask his aides if he has missed a chance to communicate directly with people, they snap that Laschet is too busy visiting crisis regions for social media.

Even in his absence, a lively debate is under way online on Laschet’s belated climate vocation. Two years ago, an irritated NRW leader wondered why “for some reason the climate issue is suddenly a theme worldwide”.

His CDU election manifesto promises industry-friendly climate change policies, dismissed by the climate movement Fridays for Future as “139 pages of climate denial”.

Climate stance

Now Laschet has to decide whether his climate protection stance should be based on how much CDU voters can handle, or how little the wider German public will accept. If he misses the window to act he could end up like Edmund Stoiber, the centre-right candidate outsmarted by Gerhard Schröder in 2002.

As summer floods ravaged Saxony, Schröder secured re-election by racing to the area and promising locals quick, unbureacratic assistance before running television cameras.

Two decades on, with social media as much a vote-winner as television, Laschet could get tips from his son Joe – a fashion influencer and Ryan Gosling look-alike.

On Thursday, as western Germany vanished beneath torrential rain and floodwater, Joe Laschet posted to Instagram a love letter to the stylish, practical and waterproof wax jacket.

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