The race to lead Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) came down to a conservative, a modernizer and a continuity candidate.
What happened: The party of Angela Merkel opted for continuity on Sunday, picking North Rhine-Westphalia Governor Armin Laschet, a centrist Merkel ally. With Merkel set to step down later this year after 16 years in power, Laschet is now the frontrunner to lead the German center-right into September’s elections.
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Like Merkel, Laschet is seen as a champion of German industry who backs close economic ties with China and Russia, but “the tide is turning” on those issues, says Sudha David-Wilp of the German Marshall Fund.
Laschet has come under scrutiny for his positions on allowing Huawei into Germany’s 5G networks and maintaining good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We have to look at what he said in the past as a reflection of his role as the governor of a state with lots of business interests with China and Russia, but now he’s in a new role,” she says.
“He’ll still have to support German business, but voters in Germany are starting to see Russia and China in a new light.”
The state of play: The CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, will pick a joint chancellor candidate this spring.
As CDU leader Laschet would be the traditional pick, but there could still be a twist if he’s seen as “a drag on the party” in upcoming regional elections, David-Wilp says.
“The CDU is very pragmatic and shrewd and they’re going to go with a winner.”
Laschet would bring a stylistic change from Merkel, David-Wilp says, in that he’s a “real retail politician” unlike the reserved Merkel.
What to watch: David-Wilp says Germans aren’t fully prepared for the “political earthquake” coming later this year.
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