In the coming weeks one of Europe’s most successful Christian Democratic blocs will choose its candidate for Chancellor, as Merkel’s term is nearing its end. The 16 year long Chancellor said that she won’t be seeking another term, and in 2018, resigned from the CDU leadership position.
Caught up in recent corruption scandals the CDU/CSU bloc needs to revive its image as soon as possible if it wants to retain its position in the polls, a way of doing this would be by choosing their candidate for Chancellor as soon as possible. For now though, it seems that their candidate will be chosen sometime after Easter.
The two names which are on the shortlist of who could potentially become the bloc’s candidate are: Armin Laschet the CDU leader and premier of North Rhine Westphalia and Markus Söder the CSU leader and premier of Bavaria. Recent polls in Germany show that the majority of Germans would prefer to see Söder as the candidate (51%) rather than Laschet (22%).
As sister parties the CDU/CSU don’t differ too much on policy, CSU is known to be more conservative on social issues. During the 90’s they didn’t support the liberalisation of the German abortion law and favoured the Polish abortion model, while in 2017 their Bundestag members voted against the same-sex marriage bill.
CDU on the other hand is more progressive. many of its members supported the liberalisation of the abortion law and the implementation of same-sex marriage. On the economy the two are pro-business and support the social market economy model, the CSU, however at times takes a more interventionist stance.
So who are the two contenders who could potentially become Germany's next chancellor and what are their views?
Armin Laschet: 60 years old, born in Achen, father of three, studied law and journalism, and a member of the Roman Catholic Church. In the CDU he is known for being loyal to Merkel and supportive of her migration policy and for his good ties with the Turkish community. On Russia, Laschet favours dialogue and will definitely try to revive EU-Russia relations if he becomes Chancellor. In an interview which he gave some time ago he said that “we need Russia for many issues in the world.”
He is also a proponent of the continuation of the Nord Stream 2 construction which has been heavily criticised by the US, EU Commission and the Three Seas Initiative countries. Laschet described the EU and China as two competing systems. He does however continue to oppose shutting Huawei out from the German 5G network and thinks that EU-China economic relations should be deepened. During the CDU leadership debates he raised concerns about human rights abuses in China. On economics Laschet teamed up with Jens Spahn the Minister of health. Last year they published an economic program for the CDU in which they seek to make the CDU both a workers and a pro-business party. Laschet mentioned that reducing economic inequality would be an important targetfor him to achieve.
Markus Söder: 54 years old, born in Nuremberg, father of four, studied law, and a member of the Evangelical Church of Germany. Söder would generally be considered the more conservative out of the two candidates. In 2018 his government in Bavaria enacted a law which made it mandatory to display a crucifix at the entrance of publicly owned buildings. In an interview in 2020 he came out in support of same-sex marriage in Germany.
That same year he paid a visit to the Kremlin where he met with Presidnet Valdimir Putin. His views on Russia would be similar to Laschet’s; a cautious approach but one that would potentially reset the EU-Russia relations and improve them. Like Laschet, Söder is not against the continuation of the Nord Stream 2 construction and says that stopping the Nord Stream 2 is not a government decision but an economic one. On China, Söder was sometimes tipped as being more pro-China than Merkel. His view on the matter is to put businesses first. On economic matters he is for the abolition of the solidarity tax, favours lower taxes and has opposed the implementation of a wealth tax.
Whoever becomes the candidate will have to work on the image of the two sister parties which has been ridden by stories of corruption and scandal. As a result of the scandals the CDU/CSU support has fallen whilst the Greens recorded some increases in the polls. Recently the CDU was badly hit in the Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate state elections. Some already say that after this year’s federal elections the traffic light coalition which will include the SPD, FDP, and Grune is very likely. After 16 years in power and all-time high approval ratings; Merkel is set to retire in the midst of a major crisis for her party. The question is, will the CDU/CSU manage to revive its image months before the elections and regain their support or will Germany see its first Green Chancellor?