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CDU leader vote: Who are the three men vying to succeed Merkel?

Germany's conservative CDU party will pick a new leader on Saturday from three candidates: moderate Armin Laschet, arch-conservative Friedrich Merz and outsider Norbert Röttgen.

CDU leader vote: Who are the three men vying to succeed Merkel?
The three candidates for the CDU party leadership Friedrich Merz (l), Armin Laschet (M) and Norbert Röttgen. Photo: DPA

Here is a guide to the three men vying for the post and the chance to be the party's chancellor candidate in this year's general election.

READ ALSO: Life after Merkel – CDU to pick new leader in key vote for chancellor successor

Armin Laschet: the moderate

The affable head of Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, is a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel and has campaigned on the promise to continue her moderate course.

The former journalist, 59, backed Merkel during the refugee crisis in 2015, when Germany left its borders open to hundreds of thousands of migrants from Syria and other countries.

But his closeness to Merkel, who will stand down as chancellor after 16 years in power, could also be a handicap for the devout Catholic and pro-European, with critics claiming he has failed to set out a distinct course
for the party.

Elected to the Bundestag in 1994 and to the European Parliament five years later, Laschet has been the state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia since 2017.

He was an early favourite in the race to head the CDU, but has seen his support waver amid criticism of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the state.

But many CDU heavyweights, including education minister Anja Karliczek and chancellery head Helge Braun, have come out in support of Laschet in the later stages of the race.

The father of three may also benefit from his alliance with Jens Spahn, Germany's popular Health Minister.

READ ALSO: Merkel's CDU party to choose new leader at January online congress

This Twitter thread by political commentator Jon Worth explains some of the key parts of the process

Friedrich Merz: the anti-Merkel

The veteran right-winger is back to get revenge after being pushed out of politics altogether by a power struggle with Merkel in the 2000s.

The 65-year-old millionaire corporate lawyer threw his hat back in the ring after almost 10 years watching from the sidelines when Merkel resigned as head of the CDU in 2018.

Back then, he narrowly lost out in the race to head the CDU to Merkel protegee Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who resigned just months later over her handling of a regional election scandal.

Socially conservative and economically liberal, Merz is a veteran with a long career in politics behind him including stints in the European Parliament and the Bundestag.

He served as head of the CDU's parliamentary faction from 2000 to 2002, when he was ousted from the post to make way for Merkel — a wound that is clearly still smarting.

READ ALSO: Merkel rival Merz in bid to succeed her as German chancellor

In a column for Der Spiegel magazine, Merz underlined his plans to move away from Merkel's style of middle ground politics.

“The CDU must step out of Angela Merkel's shadow,” he wrote.

As voters search for a new leader, he underlined that “a happy 'carry on like this' is just as inappropriate as the vague claim to occupy the centre at all times.”

Norbert Röttgen, Armin Laschet and Friedrich Merz during a CDU hustings on January 8th 2021. Photo: DPA

Merz's hardline positions, including a tough line on security and migration, will play well with the CDU's more conservative base and have already won him the backing of the party's youth wing.

But the amateur pilot and father of three drew controversy in a recent TV interview when he appeared to imply there was a link between homosexuality and paedophilia.

Norbert Röttgen: the outsider

The 55-year-old foreign policy expert was seen as a wild card when he announced his candidacy last year, but with support on the rise, he could yet cause an upset.

The latest surveys of CDU members show Röttgen neck-and-neck with Laschet, and both men just trailing Merz.

The legal and foreign affairs expert also has a score to settle with Merkel, who sacked him as environment minister in 2012 after a dismal performance in state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Elected to the Bundestag in 1994, Röttgen has a solid record in politics, most recently as head of the government's Foreign Affairs Committee.

He has often called for a more assertive German foreign policy and has notably taken a hard line against Russia.

A father of three, Röttgen has promised to modernise the CDU and especially to boost the number of women in the party.

By Femke Colbourne

Member comments

  1. From what I have learned about them, Röttgen would be my choice; but it isn’t a very exciting or interesting trio of candidates!

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TRAVEL NEWS

Germany approves €9 public transport ticket for summer

It's official - people in Germany will get cheap public transport for three months this summer after the €9 ticket was approved.

Germany approves €9 public transport ticket for summer

As part of a host of energy relief measures to cushion the cost of living crisis, the German government is offering cheap public transport for the months of June, July and August. 

Monthly tickets will be available at a price of €9 (or €27 for all three months) and they will allow people to use all buses, trains and trams in local and regional transport throughout the country.

So even if people buy the ticket in Munich, they will also be able to use local and regional buses, trains and trams elsewhere in Germany, whether it’s Hamburg or Cologne. 

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

The ticket will not be valid, however, on long-distance transport such as ICE trains or Flixbus.

The offer was put together by the coalition government – made of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the FDP.

The Bundestag voted for the initiative on Thursday, agreeing to give federal states a subsidy of €2.5 billion to fund the project. 

And on Friday, the Bundesrat – the upper house of parliament that represents the states – gave the green light to the ticket, paving the way for it to begin on June 1st. 

States had wanted an extra €1.5 billion funding boost to deal with lost revenue, however it would have been hugely controversial if they had blocked it.

READ ALSO: German states threaten to block the €9 ticket in the Bundesrat

During a debate on Thursday, federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) said the €9 project was “already a success”.

“All of Germany is talking about local public transport,” he said, adding that it is also being viewed with interest abroad. 

READ ALSO: ‘Fantastic’: Your verdict on Germany’s €9 ticket

The Left party (Die Linke) voted in favour of the €9 ticket, but leader Bernd Riexinger said he thought the plan didn’t go far enough. “Three months is simply too little,” he said.

The opposition, however, slammed the move. Christian Democrat Michael Donth called it an “expensive experiment”.

Rail operator Deutsche Bahn will offer the ticket for sale as early as Monday. Local public transport providers across the country are also preparing their ticket machines for the initiative. It will also be available in travel centres.

People with subscriptions to local transport will automatically benefit from the offer. 

In some regions, such as Stuttgart and Freiburg, the ticket is already available for purchase.

READ ALSO: How to get a hold of the €9 ticket in Berlin

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