Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party on 16 January 2021 chose Armin Laschet, the pragmatic governor of Germany’s most populous state, as its new leader — sending a signal of continuity months before an election in which voters will decide who becomes the new chancellor. Laschet defeated Friedrich Merz, a conservative and one-time Merkel rival, at an online convention of the Christian Democratic Union. Laschet won 521 votes to Merz’s 466; a third candidate, prominent lawmaker Norbert Roettgen, was eliminated in a first round of voting.
Laschet has been one of the CDU's five deputy federal chairmen since 2012. A Catholic from the Rhine region, he has always been a reliable partner to the respective party chairmen. Angela Merkel could depend on him as her deputy when she was party head until 2018, as could her successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. When Merkel faced strong opposition from parts of her party in the face of the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers in Germany since 2015, Laschet remained a faithful ally. Laschet says he stands for "a level-headed approach and avoiding extremes," a political stance that "turns toward people and does not turn its back on them." He insists on societal cohesion and the social market economy. Laschet was the only one of the three contenders who had already won an election as a lead candidate and brought government experience. That was "surely not a disadvantage" he has said from time to time.
Born in Aachen, Laschet is a veteran of many political forums. Studied law and political science at the Universities of Bonn and Munich. First state examination in law in 1987. Training as a journalist. Worked as a freelance journalist for Bavarian radio stations and Bavarian television. He was scientific advisor to the President of the German Bundestag. Since 1995 publishing director and managing director of Einhard-Verlags GmbH.
Member of the CDU since 1979. Member of the federal executive committee of the CDU in Germany since 2008. From 1994 to 1998 member of the German Bundestag. Since 2012 Chairman of the CDU North Rhine-Westphalia and Deputy Federal Chairman of the CDU in Germany. Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2005. Member of the board of directors for the award of the International Charlemagne Prize in Aachen. Member of the European Academy of Science and the Arts, Salzburg. Chairman of the CDU parliamentary group since December 18, 2013. From 1999 and 2005 he was a European Parliament MP.
Since 2010 Laschet has served in the state parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia. With him as their lead candidate, the CDU won the regional election in 2017 and formed a coalition government with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP). The victory in NRW was notable because Germany's most populous state had for 50 years mostly been led by the rival center-left Social Democrats. It also came shortly before the 2017 federal elections and provided momentum for the then-struggling CDU. Laschet stood loyally by Chancellor Angela Merkel, never against her. In contrast to his rivals Norbert Röttgen and Friedrich Merz, he never had a public dispute with Merkel.
Laschet's political career was not without defeats: In 1998 he lost his direct seat in the Bundestag. In 2010 he lost the contest for the NRW state chairmanship of the CDU to Norbert Röttgen. Two years later, and after the party had suffered massive damage internally, Laschet took over. Now, 11 years later, Laschet has also come out the winner at federal level.
Laschet formed an alliance with 40-year-old German Health Minister Jens Spahn in late February 2019. Only a few days before the vote to decide the next CDU leader, they both published a 10-point program called "#Impulse2021." In it, they affirm a "clear boundary on the right" and the broad positioning of the CDU as a mainstream people's party with a somewhat left-leaning workers' wing and an economic wing that tends to be more conservative.
Laschet and Spahn said they aspired to "make the 2020s a decade of modernization for Germany: New economic dynamism, comprehensive security, top-notch and equitable educational opportunities." They want to avoid new burdens on the battered economy, establish a digital ministry at the federal level, and show "zero tolerance for criminality and extremism." That sounds like a government program. In terms of foreign policy, Laschet emphasizes a clear focus on the European Union as well as a transatlantic orientation for the party: He intends to push for more cooperation with the US on climate and trade policy; and pleads for the European Union to be more capable of action and increased Franco-German engagement.
The change in leadership in the US suited Laschet, he has called it a "victory for democracy." He has also long maintained close contact with the political leadership in Paris and often visits the French capital. He has been Germany's representative for Franco-German cultural relations for the last two years.
Now he is Merkel's second successor in the office of party chief. Whoever holds this position traditionally becomes the party's candidate for chancellor and, if the Christian Democrats can form a governing majority, has the first shot at the chancellery. But whether Laschet will also compete for that position has long been unclear. "A state premier who successfully governs a population of 18 million can also be Germany's chancellor," emphasized Laschet a few days ago.
The candidate is due to be decided only after regional elections in two German states, a good two months from now. That decision will be made in coordination with Markus Söder, the head of the Christian Social Union (CSU). The head of the CDU's sister party in the state of Bavaria denies persistent rumors that he may want to be the conservative alliance's candidate for chancellor. But German bookmakers have Söder top of their list.
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