Tension in Germany’s conservatives over chancellor pick

April 15, 2021
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Two centre-right candidates hoping to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought support of the party lawmakers, with the governing conservative bloc under pressure to decide who should lead its charge in elections later this year.

Armin Laschet from Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and Markus Soeder from the Christian Social Union (CSU) are colleagues in the CDU/CSU bloc, but also rivals for Merkel’s throne.

The two parties traditionally field just one candidate to be their chancellor candidate in national elections, but this year they face a difficult choice.

Laschet has the early backing of the leadership of the much larger CDU.

But Soeder, the state premier of Bavaria, has a huge lead in terms of popularity among the electorate in national opinion polls.

The CDU/CSU faction, numbering some 250 members of the Bundestag, met for four hours Tuesday afternoon, with Laschet and Soeder both attending and sharing their views in sometimes heated exchanges.

Officials from both parties have called for unity and a speedy decision, amid fears of a potentially bruising power struggle.

Merkel’s party is coming off two historic state election loses last month and nervously eyeing the environmentalist Greens, whose support has been steadily growing.

Some conservatives fear that their internal squabbling will only serve to benefit the Greens, who sit just a few points behind the CDU/CSU alliance in recent surveys.

While there is no fixed process for the bloc to find consensus on the issue, both Laschet and Soeder said the question of who should be the candidate ought to be settled as soon as this week, participants at the talks told dpa.

Laschet, the state premier of North Rhine Westphalia who is seen as a political moderate and consensus-builder, said at one point, “We do not need a one-man show,’’ in an apparent reference to Soeder’s recent seizing of the national stage.

The latter pointed out that elections are personality-driven and that television debates play an important role.

“We need a good team, but top is also crucial,’’ Soeder said, seemingly alluding to his much higher personal poll ratings.

Soeder said, according to participants, that the conservative bloc must “do everything to be as strong as possible and to get as many seats as possible into the Bundestag.”

Although they are separate parties, the CSU is often regarded as the Bavarian wing of the CDU.

The CSU is active only in Bavaria, while the CDU does not put any candidates up for election in the southern state.

To eventually become chancellor, Soeder or Laschet would need to ensure victory for the CDU/CSU in the September elections, and then most likely form a coalition with one or two other parties.

The CDU/CSU is currently governing in coalition with the Social Democrats.

Both men said they were pleased with how the question-and-answer session with lawmakers went, but did not say what the next steps would be.

It had been right to go to the parliamentary group, Soeder said afterwards.

“We are both firmly convinced that in the end we will come to a very good result, which will establish unity and at the same time bring the best election chances,’’ the Bavarian leader said.

Merkel attended, but stayed in the background at Tuesday’s session, having made it clear she does not want to interfere in the drama.

When asked whether she feared that the power struggle could lead to the conservative alliance losing the chancellery in the end, she said, “I wanted and will stay out of it.’’

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