Germany: Engine of Europe

Who’s who in Germany’s historic election

Key Points
  • Armin Laschet was seen at the start of the election campaign as the most likely successor to Merkel, but his popularity has dropped in recent weeks.
  • Socialist Candidate Olaf Scholz, on the other hand, has perhaps been the biggest surprise in the campaign.
  • Annalena Baerbock, the Green party representative is likely to have a key role in coalition talks.
Candidates to the German 2021 election.
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Germany's federal elections on Sunday will usher in a new political era for both the country and the wider European Union.

Angela Merkel, the bloc's longest serving leader, is leaving the German chancellery after 16 years in power. Voter polls suggest that the election outcome is highly uncertain, with several coalition configurations possible.

CNBC takes a look at the main political figures that could shape the future of Europe's largest economy.

Armin Laschet

The conservative politician has led the German region of North Rhine-Westphalia since 2017 and became the head of the center-right CDU party in January.

Laschet was seen at the start of the election campaign as the most likely successor to Merkel — who is also a member of the CDU.

Candidate for the chairmanship of Germany's Christian Democratic Union party, Armin Laschet, gestures as he takes part in a discussion at the party's headquarters in Berlin on Jan. 8, 2021.

However, Laschet's popularity has fallen over the past month and that has pushed the CDU down in the opinion polls. Earlier this year he was caught laughing in the background when Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave a speech addressing the victims of flooding in western parts of the country.

There are open questions about the future role of the CDU — the party from which Germany's three longest-serving post-war chancellors have come from — if Laschet loses the election.  

Polls suggests 'political earthquake' to come in Germany, analyst says
Polls suggests 'political earthquake' to come in Germany, analyst says

"CDU/CSU traditionally consider themselves as Germany's natural governing force; infighting and a sense of anger after a painful defeat could create risks for whoever leads the next government, potentially far beyond election night," Carsten Nickel, deputy director of research at consultancy firm Teneo, said in a note.

Annalena Baerbock

The Green party leader was, at one point, the candidate to watch in this federal election, seen as the main challenger to Laschet.

She represented a new and younger voice in German politics and contributed to a new approach from the Green Party —seemingly more aware that it needs to coordinate with business leaders on how to transition to a carbon-neutral economy.

BERLIN, GERMANY - MARCH 15: Annalena Baerbock, co-leader of the German Greens party.
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However, her popularity took a hit when accusations of plagiarism emerged. Baerbock has denied any wrongdoing.

Her party is currently placing third in opinion polls, suggesting she could have a key role in coalition talks.

Olaf Scholz

Germany's current finance minister has perhaps been the biggest surprise in the campaign.

The candidate for Germany's socialist party, the SPD, has seen his popularity rise after the devastating floods in parts of the country earlier this summer, to a large extent because of the campaign slip-ups on the conservative side. As such, the SPD is narrowly leading opinion polls. 

Olaf Scholz, chancellor candidate of the German Social Democrats (SPD), speaks at an election campaign rally on September 05, 2021 in Leipzig, Germany. Scholz currently has an ample lead over his main rival, Armin Laschet of the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU), ahead of federal parliamentary elections scheduled for September 26.
Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Opposition lawmakers in Germany argue that a socialist chancellor would not be good for the country's finances. In addition, scandals involving the finance ministry during his leadership have also emerged.

However, none of these elements seem to be having an impact on voters' opinion of Scholz, who has described himself as the most experienced candidate — having not only been finance minister, but also vice chancellor in the current coalition.

Christian Lindner

Lindner is the leader of the liberal Free Democratic Party, which has played a key role in creating coalition governments in the past.

With opinion polls projecting that at least three parties will be needed to get a majority at the German parliament, Lindner is expecting to get some fresh political momentum at this vote.

Christian Lindner, head of the German Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei, or FDP)
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The party is polling fourth in some projections, neck-a-neck with the right-wing AfD party. Lindner has said he is ready to join forces with the CDU or SPD, or even the Greens.

Alice Weidel

She is the co-leader of the anti-immigration party, the Alternative for Germany.

Although the party has no chance of winning the majority of seats in parliament, experts will be monitoring how well the party does in this election.

The AfD entered the German parliament for the first time in the last election in 2017.

Alice Weidel, AfD candidate for the 2021 federal election.
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