The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has opened a new era in Germany and Europe with the election of Angela Merkel’s successor. Three applicants were competing for the position, all of them middle-aged men: Armin Laschet, 59, president of the land from North Rhine-Westphalia, centrist and close to Merkel; Friedrich Merz, 65, former head of the conservative parliamentary group in the Bundestag and a leading right wing; and Norbert Röttgen, 55, head of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee and former Minister of the Environment.
In the first vote, Röttgen was ruled out: he got 224 votes, after Laschet’s 380 and Merz’s 385. So these last two went to the second. In the end, Laschet prevailed over Merz by 521 votes (52.8%) compared to 466 (47.2%).RELATED
During speeches this Saturday, Laschet has presented himself as the continuity candidate who can be trusted to keep Merkel’s heritage intact: “We will only win if we stay strong at the center of society.” At the end of his speech, Laschet moved to the side of the podium and showed the camera the small metal disk that his father carried as a miner, with an identification number. And he said that his father had given it to him before leaving for the congress to tell them to delegates who could trust him: “He may not be a great showmanbut I’m Armin Laschet, and you can trust that. “
Friedrich Merz, for his part, said of climate change: “The world will not end tomorrow. We can solve this problem. The way we have been tackling this so far will not be enough,” he said, arguing that wind and solar power they will not be enough to meet Germany’s “huge energy demand” if the country becomes carbon neutral. Merz responded to criticism that he has a problem with women: “If that were the case, my daughters would have shown me a yellow card a long time ago and my wife would not have married me 40 years ago.”
In the run-up to the party conference, Merz had faced strong opposition from women even within her own party, with the hashtag “we women against Merz” as trending topic on Twitter earlier this week (#WirFrauengegenMerz).
Merz, who is popular with far-right AfD voters, stressed that he would not accept “any cooperation” with the party, arguing that it would only push for the political rivals of the CDU. “Each vote for the AfD is equivalent to half a vote for red-red-green,” he said, referring to a possible coalition of Social Democrats, the left and the greens.
The third candidate, Norbert Röttgen, ousted by Angela Merkel as Environment Minister years ago, said: “We are proud that the CDU and Chancellor Angela Merkel have conducted us so well this time,” adding that nonetheless, the party was going to have to change. “The direction of this change is given by society,” he said, insisting that the party must become more feminine, younger and more digital.
“We must not allow our society to crumble into the winners and losers of modern developments,” Röttgen said, adding that it was “precisely the weak who need our support.” The key to supporting them was education, he argued, and vowed to bring the issue “back to the forefront” of national politics.
What the CDU militants have now decided is their top leader, between Laschet, Merz and Röttgen, but not the future candidate for chancellor of the CDU / CSU coalition in the upcoming federal elections in September. However, neither Merz nor Laschet nor Röttgen are among the country’s highest-rated politicians, although the chosen one is the one who may have a better chance than anyone of becoming the candidate for chancellor.
A poll published by Spiegel it shows that the majority of Germans do not consider Spahn the most suitable candidate for chancellor, but Markus Söder. When asked which candidate would have the best electoral results with, 38% appoint the Bavarian prime minister and the head of the CSU, while Merz follows him at a considerable distance and Spahn is behind Röttgen (but before Laschet).
The result is even clearer among supporters of the CDU / CSU. In this group, almost 54% of respondents say that the CDU / CSU would have the best options with Söder. About 21% trust Merz. Norbert Röttgen and Jens Spahn, Merkel’s health minister who has voiced support for Laschet, are tied, but behind.
Söder would be the third CSU leader, after Franz-Josef Strauß and Edmund Stoiber, to be nominated for chancellor, and the first with a real chance of succeeding. At 54, he is 14 years older than Spahn, but young enough to have a long political career ahead of him.
One of the first decisions that he will have to make, precisely, is what to do with the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, and his party, Fidesz, within the European popular family, something that the EPP will have to decide in the coming weeks. “The last weeks, in particular the veto against the rule of law mechanism in the EU budget, was a setback for cooperation,” Weber said.
The president of the European PP, Donald Tusk, recalled in his speech to the CDU congress this Saturday that they are now playing “difficult decisions”, alluding to the debate on the expulsion of Fidesz.
In any case, the CDU / CSU coalition will need at least one partner to govern after the elections. The SPD is weakening in the polls, and it is not clear that it will have incentive to continue after two large coalitions under Merkel: it has been falling from 25.7% in 2013 to 21.6% in 2017 and 15 % of current surveys, which do place the Greens as a second option, with about 20% of the intention to vote.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked the CDU for cohesion and unity before the election of the new leader, given the tension between the centrist path that she represents and the turn to the right. “This is predictably the last CDU congress where I am speaking as chancellor,” Merkel said in her message to delegates.
According to Merkel, the CDU has led Germany “responsibly” during the euro crisis as it faces a pandemic “of unknown dimensions” that calls for “unimagined sacrifices” and to which the CDU responds “as a party of the center.”