BERLIN • Dr Angela Merkel has refused to be drawn on whether Mr Armin Laschet, the Premier of Germany’s most populous state, should succeed her as chancellor, saying only that he was a candidate with many qualities.
Mr Laschet, Premier of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, is one of the leading candidates to run as the chancellor candidate of the conservative bloc.
His main rival is Mr Markus Soeder, Premier of Bavaria.
“I have always said I will not get involved in the debate about a successor for the position I have or had,” she said. “Armin Laschet is running and, as the Premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, he brings a lot of qualifications with him. But other than that, I won’t get involved.”
Dr Merkel was speaking at a news conference with Mr Laschet after attending a meeting of the state’s Cabinet yesterday.
Last month, she gave a similar non-committal response after attending a session of the Bavarian Cabinet – an event marked by royal optics that fuelled speculation over Mr Soeder’s own prospects as a future chancellor – declining to indicate support for any candidate.
Mr Laschet has stumbled in his bid to seize the leadership of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) – a role which would make him the front runner to succeed Dr Merkel as chancellor when she leaves office after the next election due in the autumn of 2021.
Mr Soeder heads the Christian Social Union, the CDU’s Bavarian sister party. Polls show the CDU/CSU candidate will most likely be the next chancellor.
The party leadership contest was also disrupted by the announcement last week that Finance Minister Olaf Scholz will run as the Social Democrats’ chancellor candidate, a rare demonstration of party unity more than a year before the election is due.
The bloc lost two points in a Kantar survey published on Sunday in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper to 36 per cent, while the Social Democratic Party (SPD) got a three-point bounce from the Scholz candidacy to 18 per cent. That put the party ahead of the Greens, which fell two points to 16 per cent.
The duelling state Cabinet meetings play into the contest to replace Dr Merkel, a watershed moment for Europe’s biggest economy after 15 years of her stewardship, after the CDU leadership battle was upended by the coronavirus crisis.
A special meeting to elect a party leader scheduled for April was scrapped. The CDU said on Monday it is standing by plans to hold a scaled-down party conference in Stuttgart in December, where delegates will elect the new leader.
Mr Laschet needs all the help he can get. A pro-business moderate, he had been in pole position to assume the CDU leadership when he announced his candidacy in February. But his political star has faded during the pandemic, when he was outshone by Mr Soeder, and Health Minister Jens Spahn, a CDU conservative who backed Mr Laschet’s bid.
Mr Soeder and Mr Spahn both won plaudits as decisive and effective crisis managers while Mr Laschet’s more laissez-faire approach was badly received by voters.
The political manoeuvring has left Mr Laschet badly hurt. Only 13 per cent of Germans consider him a viable head of the federal government, the Kantar survey shows. That puts him well behind other possible candidates.
Mr Soeder, who has pushed back on speculation about a bid, won 38 per cent in the same poll, with Mr Scholz at 29 per cent.
The conservative candidate must be decided jointly by the CDU and the CSU sister party, though it has traditionally gone to the larger party.