Armin Laschet: The new leader of Merkel’s CDU party

On Saturday the 16th of January, Armin Laschet was elected as the new chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Germany. However, it remains unclear whether he is allowed to pursue the chancellery. 

Armin Laschet was elected during a digital conference where the aim was to decide which of the three candidates, Armin Laschet, Friedrich Merz and Norbert Röttgen, would be Angela Merkel’s successor as the CDU party leader. After a neck and neck race with the conservative businessman Merz, Laschet finally got 521 votes, 55 more than his competitor. Hence, Laschet will take over from chancellor Merkel to lead CDU, currently the biggest political party, into Germany’s next general election in September 2021. Until now, the majority of the Germany chancellors have come from CDU and the election of Laschet could therefore be an important indicator of the political future of Germany. 

Angela Merkel has long been a leading figure in European and international politics. For many years the German chancellor has been considered the most powerful women in the world. But this fall, Merkel will step down. After 16 years, the CDU has to find a replacement. Although the chancellery’s succession is still to be decided, the election of Laschet as the new chairman of the CDU is an important step in the development of the party.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was initially Merkel’s hand-picked successor. However, Kramp-Karrenbauer, currently Germany’s defence minister, had to step down as the CDU chairman only a year into holding the post. This was a consequence of a political scandal in the state of Thuringia after which Kramp-Karrenbauer found she did not receive enough support from Merkel or the rest of the party. The election of a new chairman therewith became unavoidable. The CDU originally intended to select a successor for Kramp-Karrenbauer during spring 2020, but because of the pandemic, the decision was delayed. Now, with Laschet as elected chairman, the question of how this will impact the party and the general election arises. Who is Armin Laschet and what does he stand for?

Becoming Armin Laschet

Armin Laschet grew up in Aachen, a German city close to both Belgium and the Netherlands. During his childhood, Laschet was an altar boy and group leader in his parish. The church was not only the place where he made his first contacts with the CDU – but he also met Susanne, his future wife, in the children’s choir. Today, the bookseller and the politician have three grown children together. 

Laschet studied law and journalism. He worked for TV and in broadcasting in Bavaria. In 1991, back in the Rhineland, Laschet became editor-in-chief of the church newspaper in Aachen and later head and managing director of the publishing company. After that, he switched entirely to politics. 

“Keynote Armin Laschet (Minister President of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW))” by Deutsche Welle Unternehmen is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

In 1989, at the age of 27, Armin Laschet had already moved into the city council of Aachen. In 1994, he won a direct mandate in the federal election for his constituency of Aachen-Stadt, and five years later he was elected as a Member of the European Parliament. Today, he repeatedly emphasizes the importance of the EU for his federal state North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), but also for Germany and the unity of Europe. 

In 2010 Armin Laschet became a member of the parliament in the largest German state, NRW and it’s almost 18 million inhabitants. From 2013 he was elected as the chairman of the CDU in NRW. With that, Laschet also became the opposition leader. But not for long. In 2017 –and until today – Armin Laschet has been Prime Minister in NRW. This government experience could qualify him for the chancellery, as Laschet regularly mentions in interviews. Furthermore, he likes to emphasize without being asked that he has already won an election – helpful for a party leader of the CDU. As prime minister during the corona crisis, he could also demonstrate what he is like as a leader.  Measured in terms of infection numbers and economic data, North Rhine-Westphalia has until now made it through the crisis relatively well compared to the rest of the German states. 

Politics and personality 

Armin Laschet did not focus on political content during the election day. In his speech to the 1001 delegates, he did not present a political program. During his 15 minutes of the live stream, he decided not to take any time for facts, for a plan, or even for drafting a future vision. Laschet has never had an image of being a concept politician. Armin Laschet attracts voters with his warm and calm persona. He presents himself as a stable, balanced and resonated man. 

Laschet is not perceived as a high-flyer, not by the media, the general public or his colleagues. Not a great communicator (even though he impressed almost everyone with his speech and performance during the election day). Laschet is seen as more of an industrial worker than a prince charming. When other German state leaders rush forward with quick, tough announcements, Laschet prefers to wait. His critics call this “hesitant”. He says: “I am what I am”. Shaking the fence of the chancellery is not who he is. Even after many years in politics, his political persona is largely characterized by his typical Rhenish resilience. 

So what about the programme? Armin Laschet’s programme is clear and his plan simple: follow in the footsteps of Merkel. A stable continuation of Merkel’s politics and era. Laschet defended Merkel during the 2015 refugee crisis and is known for his liberal politics, passion for the EU as well as his ability to connect with immigrant communities.

Armin Laschet stands for predictability and for “no experiments”. That was his significant advantage in the CDU chairman election. The “weiter so” attitude would be his most important advantage in the general election as well. However, it remains unclear if Laschet will decide to run for the chancellery and if his convictions are enough to convince the German public. The Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder, and the German Health Minister Jens Spahn (who Laschet now ran in tandem with), as well as some of the other political parties, are nonetheless likely to give Laschet serious competition during the general elections in September 2021. 

Celina Gleisner

Celina Gleisner is a freelancing journalist, currently finishing her double master's degree in International Public Policy and European Studies.