There are four months to go until Germany’s federal election and the country’s political situation has never been so tense. Polls continue to fluctuate between the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Greens, with only a few points distinguishing first from second place. If Baerbock does not become chancellor in September, it is almost guaranteed that CDU politician Armin Laschet will take centre stage.
But who is the man behind the candidacy? A fresh start for the party or a Merkel 2.0? Here is everything you need to know about Armin Laschet.
Upbringing and entry into politics
Born into a devout Roman Catholic family, Laschet and his three brothers were raised in the west German city of Aachen, which borders Belgium and the Netherlands. Despite having studied law at the universities of Bonn and Munich, Laschet has never left his hometown and has subsequently been described as Heimatbewusst (aware of his home/rooted to his origins).
Laschet worked as editor-in-chief of Aachen’s church newspaper from 1991 to 1994 and later became publishing director of the Catholic publisher Einhard in 1995. During this time, Laschet kickstarted his political career, entering the Bundestag in 1994. He was later chosen to be a Member of the European Parliament, spending much of his time in Brussels between 1999 and 2005.
2005 also saw Laschet become Germany’s first integration minister for North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), the country’s largest state. This role, as well as his belief that Germany is a ‘multicultural society’, resulted in right-wing members of the CDU naming him ‘Turkish Armin’. In 2017, he became premier of NRW and, in January of this year, was elected as leader of the CDU, beating opponent Friedrich Merz with 52.8 percent of the vote. Laschet was finally announced as the CDU’s candidate for the chancellery in April.
The CDU views Laschet as the perfect candidate to succeed Angela Merkel, as both adopt centrist approaches in their politics. The party wants to hold on to non-conservative Merkel voters, but the success of this strategy will depend on whether voters desire continuity or change in German politics.
Laschet is also seen as a conciliator within the party, with a talent for diffusing tensions between factions. This reputation has been damaged somewhat by the pandemic, especially when he and other state premiers refused to support Merkel in establishing a unified approach to COVID restrictions. Merkel criticised Laschet for impeding her ability to tackle the pandemic with appropriate measures.
Laschet never fails to emphasise his pro-European stance, evidently the result of his upbringing near the German border and his time spent in Brussels. He has stated that his ‘understanding of the office of Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany is a European one.’ The fluent French speaker enjoys a particularly close relationship with Emmanuel Macron, with both promoting deeper European integration and the continuation of a strong Franco-German partnership.
Despite this, Laschet does not share Macron’s view that Europe should establish greater independence from U.S. security. A staunch supporter of the transatlantic alliance, Laschet has stated that ‘the U.S. is our most significant partner outside the European Union. It is the world’s leading technology nation, and it is of critical importance to security in Europe.’
Laschet’s focus on climate change, or perhaps lack thereof, is a cause for concern, especially when paired with the Greens’ climate-focused agenda. He does not want to sacrifice the economy for climate policies, and his 10-point paper failed to address the climate crisis in any considerable depth. The word ‘climate’ only appeared once, and this was in reference to entrepreneurship and innovation.
Like Merkel, Laschet has highlighted that a tough stance on Russia and China should not lead to the breakdown of commercial relations. This has resulted in some accusing Laschet of being a Russlandversteher, a term used to describe those who are soft on Vladimir Putin’s Russia. His position stands in stark contrast to Baerbock, who has promised a tougher stance on Russia and China.
Looking towards the election
Armin Laschet seems to be the perfect candidate to follow in the footsteps of Germany’s beloved Merkel. But one must question whether a ‘Merkel effect’ is at play here, as it is not yet clear whether simply replicating her policies will be enough for Laschet to gain the support of Merkel voters. This is not helped by his notoriously low popularity ratings.
So, will Laschet be able to prove himself as an effective leader or will he crumble under the pressure? With four months to go until Germans take to the polls, anything is possible.