Current German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been in office for the sixteenth year in a row - since 2005. However, the current cadence would be her last one: Merkel made a promise that she would leave the office. Although theoretically she could be re-elected again, because the elections in Germany are indirect, and the Bundestag votes for the federal chancellor of the country.
But this time parliament will have to elect someone else. For example, Armin Laschet, Merkel's successor at the head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party. But the fact that Laschet became the head of the CDU does not make him the most likely candidate for the chancellor's portfolio.
Armin Laschet: a short dossier
The last online congress of the "Christian Democratic Union" was held in January 2021. By pressing keys, virtual delegates elected a new party leader. Armin Laschet became the prime minister of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. In the second round, he passed the conservative Friedrich Merz with 521 votes to 466.
Having received one mandate of confidence, Laschet immediately set his sights on another - for the post of chancellor, whom the German Bundestag will elect on September 26, 2021. True, here Laschet faces a difficult task – to become recognizable and famous since his popularity today is low. And this, by the way, is rather strange.
The fact is that Laschet has been in politics for a long time - since 1994. It was then that he was first elected to the Bundestag, three years after Angela Merkel first entered the government of a united Germany. But then Laschet's political career began to stall: it was only in 2017 that he first headed one of the German regions. For comparison: the same Merkel became Federal Chancellor at 51, and Helmut Kohl, with whom politics is sometimes compared, was elected Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate at the age of 39.
Laschet will turn 60 this year.
But it's not about age. We know one newly elected president who became the head of a powerful state at 78. The fact is that Laschet did not want to see Angela Merkel as her successor. Her protégé was called Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. The woman had a good political start and even won the party elections to the CDU, leading the party in 2018.
But she lost control and resigned in early 2020. At the same time, the coronavirus came to Europe, and due to the pandemic, new elections to the CDU were postponed for a year. So only now Laschet has officially replaced Frau Kramp-Karrenbauer.
German media see Laschet as a comrade-in-arms and successor to Angela Merkel. Actually, it would be strange if Laschet and Merkel were irreconcilable opponents, being in the same pariah. But even walking under the same flag, you can bring some great ideas to the masses. Therefore, the new head of the CDU is now expected, first of all, to continue the political line of Merkel.
And this line boils down to ensuring that the Christian Democrats remain centrists and not drift to the right even in order to return the votes of conservative voters, many of whom now support the Alternative for Germany. This very "rightism" in the CDU is personified by Friedrich Merz – Laschet's main rival in the struggle for the post of party chairman.
Merz believes, in particular, that the current "impoverishment" in German society (we put the word in quotation marks because it has little to do with Ukrainian impoverishment) was caused by Angela Merkel's wrong migration policy. Like, if not for the influx of refugees in 2015-2017, the authorities would have more opportunities to help the needy citizens of the country.
Laschet, who was Germany's first minister for integration (in North Rhine-Westphalia at the end of the 2000s), on the contrary, approves of the "open door" policy (although at the same time proclaims "zero tolerance" for migrant offenders).
Laschet’s moderation and loyalty increase his chances of being elected chancellor. Why? All the salt is in the coalition. The Bundestag will not work without it, which means that the CDU must look for partners. They can be, for example, the "greens", who have second place in the ratings, as well as social democrats and liberals from the 2Free Democratic Party. "If we assess negotiability, Laschet is a more comfortable candidate for the Bundestag deputies than Merz.
The probability that the CDU, together with partners from the Christian Social Union, will win the September elections, is high, and therefore, the CDU/CSU will become the core of the future parliamentary majority. The positive quality of Laschet - flexibility - has already been noted above, it will come in handy in the process of finding potential allies. But the new chairman of the CDU has its drawbacks, and not only the previously stated lack of popularity.
If during the pandemic Angela Merkel only increased her personal points (the Germans liked her tough quarantine policy), Laschet, on the contrary, lost a lot. For example, in the spring of 2020, he advocated the earliest possible lifting of restrictions and doubted the onset of a second wave of the epidemic.
Later, he not only believed in Covid but also accused Romanian and Bulgarian workers of the outbreak of coronavirus at one of the factories in North-Rhine - Westphalia.
And at the end of 2020, Laschet became a defendant in a scandal with a corruption flavor. It turned out that his government had entered into a contract for the production of masks with the firm for which his son works.
But the correct coronavirus messages were broadcast by Laschet's party colleagues: Health Minister Jens Spahn and Bavarian Prime Minister and CSU leader Markus Söder. Actually, according to the polls, Söder is ahead of all the politicians of the bloc, except for Merkel. And the CDU/CSU party will nominate a candidate for chancellor in synergy - after appropriate negotiations.
This will most likely happen after Easter, that is, in April. Prior to this, regional elections will take place in two German states: Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. In both regions, the situation is quite favorable for Christian Democrats. But if the results turn out to be lower than expected, it could seriously worsen Laschet's prospects as party leader in the struggle for the post of chancellor.
And yet, whoever has been nominated as chancellor - Laschet, Söder or Spahn, local observers have no doubts that the Bundestag will be headed by a candidate from the CDU/CSU, because both the "greens", who occupy the second place in the party rating and the social democrats lag far behind the aforementioned bloc. Therefore, the CDU/CSU union is almost guaranteed to win the elections and will be able to choose its partners within the parliament and the country.
Laschet and Russia
At first glance, Armin Laschet can be classified as a politician with a loyal stance towards Russia. We found a 2014 publication in which he criticizes the German government for "anti-Putin populism" in the context of the annexation of Crimea.
In addition, he repeatedly emphasized that Russia - whatever it may be - is needed by the modern world as one of its key players.
Finally, it was Laschet who opposed the sole - without the consent of other European countries - Germany's withdrawal from the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. By the way, Merz spoke in favor of the two-year freeze of the project.
But at the same time, Moscow is not too happy about the change of power in the Bundestag. One of the Russian editions - "Vzglyad" - came out with an article that is called: "The end of the Merkel era does not bode well for Russia." There are many arguments about why there will be no good.
Here is the mention that "the composition of the ruling coalition in the FRG threatens to become even less favorable in terms of seeking mutual understanding with Berlin," and fears that "Moscow will no longer be able to effectively play on the contradictions between Berlin and Washington, since these contradictions will become much less" because "if there was a trench warfare between Merkel and Donald Trump, then Joe Biden is guaranteed to find a common language with any of Merkel's potential successors. And as far as "containing Russia" is concerned, too."
If we proceed from these positions, then Russia really should be indifferent to who will replace Merkel. What about Ukraine? We did not find any weighty statements by Laschet regarding Ukraine. Perhaps they don't exist. But in any case, the search for Laschet's position in relation to our state looks premature: first, this candidate needs to become the chancellor.