BERLIN – The head of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, Armin Laschet, on Monday rallied his party’s leadership behind his bid to become the center-right candidate for Germany’s next leader, gaining an advantage over a rival who has also declared his ambition.
The Union bloc aims to decide quickly after months of shadow-boxing between Laschet, the head of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, and Markus Soeder, who leads its smaller Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union.
Laschet and Soeder – the governors of Germany’s two most populous states, North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria respectively – both officially declared on Sunday that they’re prepared to run for chancellor in the Sept. 26 parliamentary election, but insisted that they will find a harmonious solution. They didn’t specify how.
Both have advantages and disadvantages: Soeder’s poll ratings are much stronger, but Laschet is the recently elected leader of by far the bigger of the two parties.
“The picture (in the CDU leadership) is clear,” the party’s general secretary, Paul Ziemiak, said after a lengthy meeting Monday. “There is a broad majority for Armin Laschet as the chancellor candidate of the CDU and CSU.”
The party stopped short of making any formal decision. Laschet said he plans to talk with Soeder, whose own party leadership was meeting separately later Monday.
“Everyone wants a quick decision,” Laschet told a news conference. “All the facts are on the table. The problems we have to solve … are so big that we shouldn’t occupy ourselves any longer with our internal issues.”
Laschet’s support in the CDU is a decisive factor because his party runs in 15 of Germany’s 16 states, while the CSU runs only in Bavaria. The CDU’s relatively weak local branch in Berlin backed Soeder. Some lawmakers also have backed him in recent weeks.
Soeder said Sunday he is ready to run “if the CDU – which is the bigger sister, that’s very clear – supports this broadly.” He added that “it’s also clear that if the big sister says that’s not its proposal and it has a different proposal … we would accept that.”
Soeder, 54, said the candidate should be the one with the best chances in the election, in which Merkel isn’t seeking a fifth term after 16 years in power. That underlines a weakness for Laschet – current polls show much better ratings for Soeder, who has cultivated an image as a decisive backer of tough action in the coronavirus pandemic.
In Monday’s meeting, “everyone made clear, and everyone had countless examples, how polls can change in the shortest period of time,” Laschet said.
Laschet, 60, was elected as CDU leader in January and hasn’t enjoyed a honeymoon, most recently garnering criticism for appearing to dither over how to manage a resurgence in virus cases. Last month, the CDU suffered bad losses in two state elections. National polls have shown the Union giving up gains it made on the strength of Merkel’s management of the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
It has been hurt among other things by a slow start to vaccinations and allegations that several lawmakers from both CDU and CSU profited from business deals last year as Germany scrambled to secure masks. Some of those lawmakers have left their parties.
The Union still leads national polls ahead of the environmentalist Greens and the center-left Social Democrats. The Greens plan to announce on April 19 which of the party’s two co-leaders will make its first bid for the chancellery. The Social Democrats nominated current Finance Minister Olaf Scholz months ago.
“I want a modern Germany – I want us to link the questions of climate protection with economic questions,” said Laschet, a centrist who is viewed as largely in tune with Merkel’s own pragmatic approach. “I want to fight for us to remain an industrial country.”
“In (solving) every problem of global dimensions, we need multilateral solutions, we need a European Germany,” he added.
Soeder’s CSU has twice provided the center-right candidate for chancellor in the past – Franz Josef Strauss in 1980 and Edmund Stoiber in 2002. Both lost to center-left incumbents.