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Explained: Who is Armin Laschet, new leader of Angela Merkel’s party and her possible successor

Armin Laschet is a loyal supporter of Angela Merkel, and is seen as a continuity candidate of her course at Germany’s helm.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: January 18, 2021 11:21:56 am
As party chief, Armin Laschet now takes the place of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Merkel’s once-designated successor. (Photo via DW)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, which has been ruling the country in coalitions since 2005, has elected Armin Laschet as its new leader. Laschet, who is currently the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, emerged victorious over two rivals at the CDU’s virtual conference on Saturday.

The win is said to place him in a good position to replace Merkel as Chancellor if their ruling coalition retains power in September this year, when the country goes to polls. Merkel would be stepping down that month, after completing 16 years in office.

As party chief, Laschet now takes the place of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Merkel’s once-designated successor.

Who is Armin Laschet?

Laschet is a loyal supporter of Merkel, and is seen as a continuity candidate of her course at Germany’s helm. The 59-year-old leader stood behind Merkel during the 2015 refugee crisis, at a time when she faced strong opposition from within the centre-right party. A political moderate, Laschet has a pro-EU stance, and is seen as friendly to immigrants.

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A Catholic who hails from the Rhine region, Laschet is a former lawyer and journalist who served in the German parliament from 1994 to 1998, and then in the European parliament from 1999 and 2005. In 2010, he joined the state parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia, and became its premier in 2017.

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The 2017 victory was notable, as Laschet was able to dislodge from power the centre-left Social Democrats, who had ruled the state for most of the previous five decades. Since 2012, he has served as one of the CDU’s five deputy chairpersons.

During his campaign to become CDU chief, Laschet warned against changing the direction of the party, saying that “a break with Angela Merkel would send exactly the wrong signal”. He has supported a “a level-headed approach and avoiding extremes,” at a time when the party is losing voters to the alt-right.

As per a DW report, Laschet favours stronger relations with France, and has been Germany’s representative for Franco-German relations for two years. The report also said that he would push for closer ties with the US under the incoming Biden administration; he called Biden’s win a “victory for democracy”.

Although Laschet has taken over the reins of the party, this does not mean that his path to chancellorship is guaranteed, as other leaders from the ruling coalition are expected to challenge him for the top post. Interestingly, Laschet’s political heft took a hit last year, after reports said that he pressed for an early relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, angering Merkel.

To become the CDU’s chancellor candidate, Laschet may have to fend off challenges from Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn and Bavarian leader Markus Söder, both popular figures, reports said.

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