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POLITICS

Armin Laschet: Gaffe-prone Merkel heir with big shoes to fill                     

Armin Laschet, the head of Angela Merkel's CDU party, was long the flawed but clear favourite to become Germany's next chancellor when Merkel bows out of politics after the September 26th election.

Armin Laschet: Gaffe-prone Merkel heir with big shoes to fill                     
Armin Laschet on the election trail in Korschenbroich on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

But with recent polls showing the conservatives neck-and-neck with the Social Democrats (SPD) and on a downward trend, the 60-year-old’s road to power is looking rockier.

Things started to go wrong for Laschet in mid-July, when deadly floods struck western Germany – including North Rhine-Westphalia, where he is state premier.

He was caught on camera laughing in the background as President Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid tribute to flood victims, and was also widely mocked for wearing inappropriate dress shoes to the disaster zones.

Asked in a TV interview whether he thought the government had made mistakes in its climate policy, Laschet said it would be wrong to “change policies just because of one day” in what sounded to many like making light of the catastrophe.

A few weeks later, he also came under fire for suggesting that “2015 must not be repeated” when talking about the crisis in Afghanistan — a reference to the influx of refugees to Germany in that year, which he had supported.

“Anyone who says that 2015 must not be repeated is saying: We can only afford this humanity once,” the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung charged, accusing him of pandering to the far right.

OPINION: Germany is failing its Afghan helpers – out of fear of repeat of 2015 refugee crisis

Support from Merkel

At a rally in Berlin on Saturday, Merkel threw her support behind Laschet, insisting she was “deeply convinced” he was the right man for the job.

But one poll for the NTV broadcaster on Tuesday showed the alliance of the CDU and the smaller Bavarian CSU had fallen behind the SPD, their junior coalition partner, for the first time since 2006.

Chancellor Angela Merkel with Armin Laschet on August 25th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Recent surveys of who Germans would like to see as their next chancellor have also left Laschet lagging badly behind Olaf Scholz, the SPD candidate.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Social Democrats take surprise lead in election poll 

Laschet only secured the conservatives’ chancellor candidate nomination in April after a bruising battle with the CSU’s Markus Söder, who still regularly beats him in popularity polls.

With a whiff of discontent lingering in  Söder’s camp, the Bild daily even quoted MPs on Friday apparently urging Laschet to step aside for the sake of the party.

But Laschet has a reputation for endurance and what Der Spiegel magazine has described as an ability to “sit out” his opponents – a talent that may
yet land him Germany’s top job.

He won the vote to become CDU leader against many expectations, and also outperformed the polls to secure an impressive election win in North Rhine-Westphalia in 2017.

Asked in a recent TV interview whether he thought he was often underestimated, Laschet replied that “many have certainly miscalculated”.

READ ALSO: After Merkel – who could be next in line to lead Germany?

‘Statesman in the making’

Laschet was born in Aachen, the spa city in western Germany near the border with Belgium and the Netherlands.

The father-of-three is a devout Catholic and met his wife — who is of French-speaking Wallonian origin — singing in a church choir.

He is a great fan of Charlemagne, the king of the Franks credited with uniting Europe whose empire was based in Aachen, and his family has even said they are direct descendants.

Known for his affable Rhinelander persona, Laschet has been accused of lacking the gravitas to negotiate on the world stage.

He was also widely criticised for what was called a dithering response to the pandemic in North Rhine-Westphalia, with the Süddeutsche Zeitung describing him as “indecisive, sometimes acting impulsively”.

In responding to the crisis in Afghanistan, he has aimed to show he is capable of taking a firm stance as he accused NATO of the “biggest debacle” in its history.

Afghanistan gave Laschet “the first opportunity to present himself as a statesman in the making”, Die Welt daily said. “This was no longer the friendly Rhinelander.”

By Femke COLBORNE

Member comments

  1. Wow, laughing during a tribute to victims of a man-made disaster aka climate change; he’d fit right at home with the GOP here in the States, as they all share the same “better them than me!” mentality, never caring about anything/anyone til it hits close to home. Such a lovely human being he is…

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POLITICS

Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

Germany will reinstate its so-called debt brake in 2023 after suspending it for three years to cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, sources in the finance ministry said Wednesday.

Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

The government will borrow 17.2 billion euros ($18.1 million) next year, adhering to the rule enshrined in the constitution that normally limits

Germany’s public deficit to 0.35 percent of overall annual economic output, despite new spending as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the sources said.

The new borrowing set out in a draft budget to be presented to the cabinet on Friday is almost 10 billion euros higher than a previous figure for 2023 announced in April.

However, “despite a considerable increase in costs, the debt brake will be respected,” one of the sources said.

Although Germany is traditionally a frugal nation, the government broke its own debt rules at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and unleashed vast financial aid to steer the economy through the crisis.

READ ALSO: Debt-averse Germany to take on new borrowings to soften pandemic blow

The government has this year unveiled a multi-billion-euro support package to help companies in Europe’s biggest economy weather the fallout from the Ukraine war and sanctions against Russia.

Berlin has also spent billions to diversify its energy supply to reduce its dependence on Russia, as well as investing heavily in plans to tackle climate change and push digital technology.

But despite the additional spending, Finance Minister Christian Lindner has maintained the aim to reinstate the debt brake in 2023.

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