An end to an era is approaching: Merkel leaves politics. This leaves a vacuum of power behind in Germany, in Europe and even on the world stage. For nearly sixteen years, Merkel was the face of Germany, as Chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Party CDU. Today it is determined who should fill that hole she leaves behind.
There are three candidates to be decided as of today: the irreplaceable Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet (59), former CDU group chairman and hardliner Friedrich Merz (65) and the eloquent CDU foreign specialist Norbert Röttgen (55).
Three older men from West Germany‘s North Rhine-Westphalia. That is also the criticism: is there enough to choose? Where, for example, are the female candidates?
Kristy Augustin, member of the ‘Frauenunion‘ of the CDU, is one of the 1001 delegated CDU members (selected by local and federal associations) who can vote for one of the male candidates.
Laschet is known as ‘the bridge builder‘. An experienced director and for four years leader of the government of North Rhine-Westphalia, the state with the most inhabitants of Germany. That experience is also his strongest asset. He is also the only one of the three who has already won (state) elections.
Laschet is someone who listens, can work together and connect. This can be useful for reconciling the various wings within the party in the post-Merkel era. It is also possible to negotiate a future government with, for example, the Greens, and perhaps the Liberals.
Criticism is that he has little charisma. He sometimes seems a little awkward and you don’t immediately see a Chancellor standing there. That doesn‘t have to be a downside, because Merkel used to get the same criticism.
Many CDU people support Laschet because he looks a lot like Merkel. The fact that delegates who are allowed to vote in this election are generally conservative can benefit Laschet.
Candidate Merz is the opposite: the anti-Merkel. Merz has said many times that he’s not looking for a break with Merkel‘s policy. But he was clear before. He said that “Merkel’s passivity lies over the land as a suffocating blanket,” and that he can‘t wait to change that.
Merz is a favourite with people who think the CDU has moved too far to the left. Under Merz, the CDU – its supporters hope – places much more emphasis on the economy and business and follows a hard line in many areas, including refugee politics.
He’s popular in the party. The conservative wing, to which the young Unionists belong, is campaigning fanatically for him. Merz also receives a lot of support in the east of the country, where they see him as the candidate who can win back voters of the AfD right-wing populist party.
The problem is that he hasn‘t been politically active for years. He stands on the sidelines, receives little media attention and did not gain any management experience in coronatijd.
Then there is Röttgen, who in the polls approaches his opponents ever closer. The man who in recent – internationally turbulent – times as a foreign specialist of the party was a lot in the picture and has profiled himself well.
Röttgen dares to talk about sensitive issues, such as the German-Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, and he is not afraid of a deviating position. In debates, he seems to be the candidate who can modernise the party because he is more than Merz and Laschet on climate and women’s issues. Nevertheless, Röttgen‘s profits would be very surprising, because he does not have such a large network within the party.
Because the campaign by corona mainly took place online, the vote among delegates is difficult to gauge. A pronounced favorite is not there. Merz is short ahead with 29 percent in the most recent polls, but it only saves percentage points with the other two.
The big surprise
What also weighs is that the election is only a first step in the search for ‘the new Merkel‘. The face with which the CDU/CSU will enter the elections – the one who also has a great chance as the new Chancellor of Germany – the party will not be elected until the spring.
The favourite for this top post is not even on the list this weekend: Markus Söder, Prime Minister of Bavaria and leader of the Bavarian sister party CSU. Söder is seen as a strong leader. He is praised for the way in which he tackles the coronacrisis in Bavaria.
The big surprise can be health minister Jens Spahn. He is still presenting himself as Laschet’s second man, but rumors are growing that he himself will make a throw at the Chancellery.