Armin Laschet, 59, was elected this Saturday the new leader of the main German party, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), under the current Prime Minister, Angela Merkel. The result shows that the party wants to follow the direction imposed by the chancellor, from the center, with possible concessions to the more conservative or the more progressive.
Current prime minister of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, Laschet was not the preferred candidate of the party’s 1,001 delegates, according to recent polls, but benefited from the two-team system. He defeated conservative Friedrich Merz by 521 votes to 466, in an online and secret vote. In the first lap, he was in second position, with 380 votes, just behind Merz, with 385.
Former Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, the third candidate who advocated a relatively more progressive line for the center-right liberal party, came third with 224 votes.
The internal dispute has grown in importance this year as it affects not only party leadership but also that of German politics. After 16 years in power, Merkel will not be running for another term, and what is at stake now is the dispute over her succession in the parliamentary elections in September.
Being chosen as a party leader usually guarantees the right to run for office, but this year the situation is unclear. Neither Laschet nor his two other contenders for the CDU leadership are popular with the electorate, which could put two other contenders in the running.
Closest to Laschet is the current Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, who supported him in the internal elections. Voters’ favorite is Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder, who watched Saturday’s row from the stands: he is the leader of another party, the CSU, the CDU’s little sister. The two have also followed a policy closer to that of the current Chancellor if they are chosen for their place.
Laschet, journalist, is a Catholic center which, while managing North Rhine-Westphalia, has made the protection of industry a priority. Its management of the pandemic, which in Germany is a state competence, has however been poorly assessed by the inhabitants of the state. The candidate’s chances in the internal conflict were aided this week by the endorsement of five party leaders from the east and west of the country.
At the congress on Saturday, he presented himself with a politician “capable of unifying”. Speaking to delegates online, he said staying at the center of society was the only way to maintain his strength. “We have to make sure that this center continues to have confidence in us.”
With Merz, a millionaire corporate lawyer, as the main opponent, Laschet also underlined in his speech his professional origin: his father worked in the coal mines.