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Merkel’s conservatives back Laschet as chancellor candidate

Angela Merkel's conservative party early on Tuesday  firmly backed Armin Laschet to be the conservative bloc's chancellor candidate at Germany's upcoming elections, hoping to draw a line under a bitter battle with challenger Markus Söder.

Merkel's conservatives back Laschet as chancellor candidate
Armin Laschet on Monday. Photo: DPA

After more than six hours of talks, 46 executive board members of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) held a secret online ballot that resulted in 77.5 percent support for party leader Laschet, participants told AFP.

Bavarian premier Söder, leader of the CDU’s smaller CSU sister party, garnered 22.5 percent.

Söder, who is more popular than Laschet in opinion surveys, had earlier said he would accept the CDU’s decision and step aside “without resentment” if senior members favoured his rival.

The late-night vote marked the culmination of a bruising week-long power struggle that has brought Merkel’s once stable CDU-CSU alliance to the brink of implosion.

Armin Laschet and Markus Söder. Photo: DPA

With just five months to go before the September 26th election, when Merkel bows out after 16 years in power, the conservatives’ poll ratings have plummeted recently over their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Laschet, a long-time Merkel ally and the premier of Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, had already secured the backing of CDU top brass last week.

READ ALSO: German conservatives fear ‘polarisation’ over Merkel succession

Elected as head of the CDU in January, Laschet would usually be the obvious choice to lead the centre-right CDU and its Bavarian CSU partner into the elections.

But the 60-year-old has been panned in recent months for flip-flopping on measures aimed at curbing the virus spread in his state, even attracting criticism from Merkel herself.

Laschet’s claim to be chancellor candidate has been fiercely contested by Söder, 54, who after months of keeping Germans guessing about his ambitions finally announced his bid for the top job on April 11th.

The former television journalist, who has echoed Merkel’s stance for tough curbs to tame Germany’s Covid-19 surge, currently commands more support from the German public and conservative lawmakers.

Merkel has not weighed in on the row, saying last week: “I wanted to, want to and will stay out of it.”

Participants at Monday’s marathon talks told German media that Merkel sat in on the video conference but did not contribute to the discussions, with some observers reading into her silence a lack of support for Laschet.

Disciplined Greens

Söder told reporters on Monday that the CDU, as “the bigger sister party” had the ultimate say in who to send into the race for Merkel’s job.

“We don’t want to and we won’t see a rift between the CSU and the CDU,” he insisted.

A recent poll by public broadcaster ARD showed 44 percent of Germans in favour of Söder as most qualified as the CDU-CSU’s chancellor candidate. Laschet only had 15 percent of support.

READ MORE: Merkel’s conservatives fail to reach deal on who will be chancellor candidate

It remains to be seen whether the CDU’s internal vote marks the end of the conservative tug-of-war, with CDU-CSU parliamentarians set to hold a meeting on Tuesday.

Addressing Monday’s late night video conference, Volker Bouffier, regional premier of Hesse state who supports Laschet, warned that the board’s decision “may not be accepted” by the party base.

The squabbles have damaged the alliance’s standing at a time when Europe’s biggest economy is struggling to end a pandemic that has killed 80,000 and ravaged thousands of businesses and livelihoods.

The chaos in the conservative camp also stands in stark contrast to the centre-left Green party, polling second behind the CDU-CSU, which on Monday announced co-chair Annalena Baerbock as its chancellor candidate at a slick press event with no signs of strife.

Congratulating Baerbock on the nomination, Laschet promised a “fair election campaign” and urged parties to be “respectful” of each other in a veiled warning to Sôder.

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POLITICS

‘Russia must not win this war,’ says Germany’s Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged once again to stand with Ukraine against Russia - but said Ukraine's bid to join the EU cannot be sped up.

'Russia must not win this war,' says Germany's Scholz

Scholz said the war in Ukraine was the greatest crisis facing the EU in its history, but that solidarity was strong. 

“We are all united by one goal: Russia must not win this war, Ukraine must prevail,” Scholz said in the speech to the Bundestag on Thursday.

Putin thinks he can use bombs to dictate the terms for peace, the SPD politician said. 

“He’s wrong. He was wrong in judging the unity of Ukrainians, and the determination of our alliances. Russia will not dictate peace because the Ukrainians won’t accept it and we won’t accept it.”

Scholz said it was only when Putin understands that he cannot break Ukraine’s defence capability that he would “be prepared to seriously negotiate peace”.

For this, he said, it is important to strengthen Ukraine’s defences. 

Scholz also pledged to help cut Europe free from its reliance on Russian energy. 

The Chancellor welcomed the accession of Finland and Sweden to Nato. “With you at our side, Nato, Europe will become stronger and safer,” he said.

However, Scholz dampened expectations for Ukraine’s quick accession to the EU.

“There are no shortcuts on the way to the EU,” Scholz said, adding that an exception for Ukraine would be unfair to the Western Balkan countries also seeking membership.

“The accession process is not a matter of a few months or years,” he said.

Scholz had in April called for Western Balkan countries’ efforts to join the EU to be accelerated amid a “new era” in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last October, EU leaders at a summit in Slovenia only reiterated their “commitment to the enlargement process” in a statement that disappointed the six candidates for EU membership — Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo – who had hoped for a concrete timetable.

“For years, they have been undertaking intensive reforms and preparing for accession,” Scholz said on Thursday.

“It is not only a question of our credibility that we keep our promises to them. Today more than ever, their integration is also in our strategic interest,” he said.

The chancellor said he would be attending the EU summit at the end of May “with the clear message that the Western Balkans belong in the European Union”.

Scholz also called for other ways to help Ukraine in the short term, saying the priority was to “concentrate on supporting Ukraine quickly and pragmatically”.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has also said it will take “decades” for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU, and suggested building a broader political club beyond the bloc that could also include Britain.

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