‘Allow more freedom and flexibility’: Merkel party chief defiant in row over Covid-19 measures

The head of Angela Merkel's party on Tuesday doubled down in a standoff with the chancellor over Germany's pandemic measures, calling for less control from central government and "more trust" for the regions.

'Allow more freedom and flexibility': Merkel party chief defiant in row over Covid-19 measures
Armin Lachet speaking in Berlin on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Armin Laschet, who heads the CDU party and is leader of Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, beat back Merkel’s criticisms against states for failing to implement agreed measures to halt Covid transmissions.

“We need to trust those who work on the ground and allow more freedom and flexibility,” Laschet said in a speech outlining his party’s programme six months before a general election.

“We need more trust in people and their power to make changes, if you just let them do it,” he said.

The open spat between Laschet and Merkel came as the CDU and its Bavarian sister party CSU were suffering a steep drop in support, while Germany struggles with stubbornly high infection rates and a sluggish vaccination campaign.

It also comes just before the CDU-CSU conservative alliance is due to decide who will lead it into the general election on September 26th.

READ ALSO: Merkel’s conservatives suffer heavy losses in two German state universities


Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states had agreed national measures last week including an “emergency brake” for hard-hit areas, but several states have strayed.

Merkel criticised Laschet in a rare television interview on Sunday in which she attacked Germany’s regional leaders for not following the rules.

Measures have been applied only in some districts in North Rhine-Westphalia and with sweeping exceptions.

But Laschet hit back on Monday, saying it “doesn’t help us if the federal government and states are pushing responsibility onto each other” and insisting all 16 state premiers are “taking this very seriously”.

Elected as head of the CDU in January, Laschet is in pole position to lead the alliance into the election — but his poor standing in national polls has prompted speculation that popular Bavarian premier Markus Soeder could be a better choice.

Söder on Tuesday described the dispute between Merkel and Laschet as “very strange”, saying he stood behind the chancellor and the “emergency brake”.

The conservatives have also suffered from a corruption scandal dubbed the “mask affair”, in which several CDU-CSU politicians are accused of profiting directly or indirectly from procurement contracts for protective equipment.

One recent poll had the party on just 25 percent, just two points clear of the Greens and almost eight points below their score at the last election in 2017.

Laschet on Tuesday admitted that “mistakes in pandemic management and some personal misbehaviour and selfishness in our own ranks have led to a decline in confidence” in the party.

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Germany’s centre-right CDU to elect new leadership by end of the year

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party will elect its new leadership by the year's end, general secretary Paul Ziemiak said Monday, detailing plans for a clean slate after a disastrous election that the party lost to the Social Democrats.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and CDU leader Armin Laschet on the election campaign trail in Aachen before the election.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and CDU leader Armin Laschet on the election campaign trail in Aachen before the election. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

In power for 16 years under Merkel, the Christian Democratic Union is grappling with its deepest crisis in decades after turning in a historic low score in September’s election.

Its leader Armin Laschet last week signalled his readiness to step aside, setting the ball rolling for renewal at the top.

READ ALSO: Laschet signals he’s ready to step down as CDU leader

Ziemiak said a date for the congress to determine the new makeup of the party’s top brass as well as how rank and file members can participate in the leadership selection process will be announced on November 2nd.

But the party’s leaders “today agreed unanimously that we will elect a completely new executive board,” he said, adding that in terms of the calendar, the “window for this is year’s end”.

Bild daily had reported that the party has made a tentative booking for December 6th-13th in Dresden for its possible congress.

READ ALSO: Germany edges a step closer to a government led by Social Democrats

Laschet, who is state premier of Germany’s most populous region North Rhine-Westphalia, was elected head of the CDU in January.

For some time, he was the clear favourite to succeed Merkel, who is bowing out of politics after running four consecutive coalitions.

But his party’s ratings began to slide as he committed a series of gaffes, including being caught on camera laughing in the background during a solemn tribute to flood victims.

With the CDU’s ratings plunging, Merkel tried to boost Laschet’s campaign with joint appearances, but was unable to help the conservatives pull off a win on election day.