The race to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel is coming to an end as Armin Laschet has been elected leader of the Christian Democrats (CDU), Merkel’s party.
During the party’s virtual conference, the premier of North-Rhine Westphalia state triumphed over his two rivals.
For now, it is more than likely that he will succeed Merkel when she retires as Germany’s Chancellor in September, after serving 16 years in office.
Laschet has some big boots to fill. Having served as Germany’s Chancellor since 2005, Merkel has helped shape the German political landscape and Germany’s role in the world. The scale of the challenges that she has faced in office have been substantial. These include the 2008 recession, the 2012 eurozone crisis, the 2015 Greek bailout crisis, Brexit, and the coronavirus.
Big Challenges Ahead for Laschet
Merkel has served four terms in office and the key to her success has been positioning herself as a centrist politician. It is rather telling that she influenced the outcome of the CDU’s virtual conference last weekend, as she provided the North-Rhine Westphalia premier with her tacit backing, which proves that she wants her centrist discourse to continue.
As the new leader of the CDU, Laschet has many problems that he must address immediately. Firstly, it would be in his best interest to ensure that there is stability within the cabinet. Leading conservative and former investment banker Friedrich Merz was the favorite to succeed Merkel, and despite his defeat, he has requested the position of economics minister. Yet a spokesman for the German Chancellor confirmed that there were no plans to replace the current Economic Minister, Peter Altmaier, or to reshuffle the cabinet. But Merz still retains considerable influence over his large band of supporters within the CDU, and it will be impossible not to include him in a new lineup without upsetting party unity.
Maintaining Coalition Unity Could Cause Laschet’s Political Death
Beyond the CDU’s internal unity lies the challenge of maintaining unity within Germany’s coalition government. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who resigned as Merkel’s successor last year, also promised to preserve Germany’s grand coalition with the Social Democrats, but despite her best intentions, she failed to do so. Perhaps Laschet could deliver a breath of fresh air to the coalition government.
But just because Laschet has succeeded the German Chancellor as party leader does not mean that his path to succeed Merkel in that role is guaranteed. Upcoming regional elections in the states of Rheinland-Pfalz and Baden-Württemberg will become Laschet’s first test of popularity since he became CDU leader, and they will determine whether he is capable of then becoming the next German chancellor. If he fails, it is almost guaranteed that Jens Spahn, the Health Minister, and Markus Söder, the state leader of Bavaria and head of the Christian Social Union, the CDU’s sister party, will attempt to throw him out of his current position.
Who Will Be Germany’s Next Chancellor?
Although the coronavirus has damaged Alternative for Deutschland’s (AfD) support in the opinion polls to around 9 percent in the latest survey, they still remain the largest opposition party with 89 seats. The AfD’s fortunes could go two ways and anything could change in Germany’s political landscape this year. They could attract support from voters disillusioned with the economic damage COVID-19 has caused so far. Equally, the party is divided as its co-leader, Jörg Meuthen, attacked the right-wing of the party during the AfD’s convention last November due to its use of the term “corona dictatorship.” Party divisions could make the AfD unattractive in many voters’ eyes and the CDU/CSU could win over a lot of their voters.
September is fast approaching and the way Laschet deals with the obstacles laid before him will determine whether he could become the next German Chancellor by then. But for now, nothing is certain.