Germany: Engine of Europe

Germany's biggest political power finally chooses who will lead it into crunch election

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Key Points
  • Pressure has been building on Angela Merkel's conservative alliance to select a candidate to represent the bloc in Germany's general election later this year.
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel announced in 2018 she would not run for a fifth term in office.
  • On Monday night, a majority of senior CDU party officials selected Armin Laschet to be the candidate for chancellor.

In this article

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party chairman Armin Laschet (L) and State Premier of Bavaria and Christian Social Union (CSU) chairman Markus Soeder arrive for a joint press conference on the occasion of a closed door faction meeting of CDU and CSU on April 11, 2021 in Berlin, Germany.
Pool | Getty Images News | Getty Images

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative alliance finally selected a candidate to represent the center-right bloc in the country's national election later this year, after months of uncertainty and delay.

Up until then, neither the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), nor its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), had been able to agree on who should lead the conservatives into the election on Sep. 26. Merkel announced in 2018 that she would not run for a fifth term in office.

At a meeting of the CDU's board Monday night, however, a majority of senior party members voted to nominate Armin Laschet, the leader of the CDU and state-premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, as the candidate for chancellor for this year's election.

Some 77.5% (31 members) of the party's federal executive committee voted in favor of the party leader, according to reports from German news outlet Deutsche Welle and Reuters, citing sources, while his rival Markus Soeder, received just 9 votes.

The CDU tweeted during the night that there had been "a long and intense debate among the members from the 17 regional associations, district associations and associations about people, election prospects and the mood at the party base" before the vote in favor of Laschet.

Soeder, who heads the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the CSU, said on Tuesday that he accepted the decision and would support Laschet, wishing him "great success for the difficult challenge ahead," Reuters reported.

Speaking later on Tuesday, Laschet called for the conservative bloc to unite, saying: "It is important that the CDU-CSU enter this election campaign as one team," he told a news conference, Reuters said. "The CDU will not win this election without the CSU, and the opposite is also true."

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Party mood

The inability of the alliance to present a candidate thus far had been the source of frustration for CDU-CSU officials and had not been lost on opposition politicians who could become influential in forming a new government in September.

The CDU-CSU is ahead in various opinion polls but the Greens are not so far behind. Four polls conducted in mid-April in Germany put support for the alliance at around 28-31% while in the same polls support for the Greens stood at between 20-22%.

Strategists expect that the most likeliest outcome of the election is that the CDU-CSU will form a coalition with the Greens. Although there is a slim chance that, should the CDU-CSU perform very badly, then the Greens could form a coalition with other parties such as the Social Democrats or the Free Democratic Party.

On Monday, the Green Party confirmed that Annalena Baerbock will be its candidate for the next German chancellor.

Jürgen Trittin, member of the Bundestag and former leader of Germany's Green Party, told CNBC on Monday that the party now had an outside chance that it could even lead Germany's government come September.2

"I've never seen, in my political life, such a crisis within the conservative Christian Democratic party," Trittin said, arguing that the CDU-CSU's indecision over which candidate will lead the bloc into the election had been damaging to the alliance.

"Even if they decide now, the other side of the party is so hurt and damaged they will have a real problem in the election campaign and as a potential coalition partner for whomever."

The Green Party is gaining in confidence and even daring to dream it could overtake the CDU/CSU when it comes to the September vote.

"Everything is possible," Konstantin von Notz, a member of the Bundestag and Green Party, told CNBC Tuesday.

"There should be no doubt about it, it's going to be a very tough election campaign," he said, adding: "People from all parties will be very tough on us because the Greens are saying that we could be the leading party and that wakes ... every enemy up."

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Game of chicken

Ahead of Laschet's endorsement by the CDU overnight, Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank, noted on Monday that the "game of chicken" between Laschet and Soeder appeared to be coming to an end and noted what a Laschet chancellorship could mean for Germany.

The choice between Soeder and Laschet "is about style, charisma and perceived electoral appeal rather than major differences on substance," he said in a note.

"Laschet is widely seen as the continuity candidate. He has usually supported Merkel on other policies including her handling of the 2015 refugee crisis. His somewhat unassuming style and penchant to moderate and bridge differences resembles Merkel's approach," Schmieding noted.

He added that Laschet was also likely to "go along with" some additional fiscal burden sharing in the EU and the euro zone.