Laschet signals he’s ready to step down as Germany’s CDU leader

The beleaguered chief of Angela Merkel's CDU party signalled Thursday that he was ready to step aside as leader of the conservatives, after an election debacle that left them on the brink of opposition.

CDU leader Armin Laschet walks away after giving a press conference in Berlin.
CDU leader Armin Laschet walks away after giving a press conference in Berlin on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

Armin Laschet, 60, has been under intense pressure to quit after he led the conservatives to its worst election result since World War II, coming in after the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).

A day after kingmaker parties Greens and the liberal FDP decided to seek a coalition with the Social Democrats, putting SPD Finance Minister Olaf Scholz a step closer to the chancellery, Laschet said the leadership of his conservative party needed an overhaul – his job included.

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

“We will quickly tackle the personnel question of the CDU – from the chairperson through the party’s leadership to the federal executive committee,” he told journalists, saying that he will propose a date for a party congress to settle these issues.

Nevertheless, Laschet insisted that a coalition led by his Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Bavarian sister party CSU can still be a viable option if ongoing talks led by rivals SPD were to fail.

Following first exploratory talks on Thursday, however, the SPD, Greens and FDP said they will press on with another round from Monday.

“I sensed from the talks that we can achieve something together,” said SPD general secretary Lars Klingbeil.

For Laschet’s Bavarian ally, CSU chief Markus Söder, it was time for the conservatives to move on.

The CDU-CSU alliance must now prepare itself for a stint in opposition after 16 years in power led by Merkel, he said.

“This will change our country,” Soeder had said on Wednesday.

Merkel herself, who is staying on as caretaker chancellor during the coalition haggling process, also hinted that she expected ongoing talks that leaves her conservatives out to go smoothly.

The process “will definitely be faster than during the last government formation, I’m sure of it,” said Merkel during a visit in Rome.

Turning tide

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

While less popular than Söder, he managed to beat the Bavarian leader to become the bloc’s chancellor candidate.

For some time, Laschet was the clear favourite to succeed Merkel, who is bowing out of politics after 16 year in power.

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.

READ ALSO: 10 German words you need to know to keep up with the coalition talks

Desperate to turn the tide, the conservatives tapped on their best asset – Merkel.

Even though the chancellor pulled out the stops to accompany Laschet across the country on the last week of election campaigning, he was unable to pull off a win on polling day.

Official results of the election showed former CDU voters abandoning the party in droves, mostly in favour of the SPD and the Greens. But the party also lost ground to the far-right AfD in the former East Germany.

Laschet said his party will hold a meeting in the east to look at how to win back voters from the AfD.

By Hui Min NEO

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Germany’s ‘traffic light’ parties sign coalition agreement in Berlin

Two and a half months after the federal elections on September 26th, the three parties of the incoming 'traffic light' coalition - the SPD, Greens and FDP - have formally signed their coalition agreement at a public ceremony in Berlin.

Traffic light coalition
Germany's next Chancellor Olaf Scholz (front, left) on stage in Berlin with other members of the new coalition government, and their signed agreement. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

The move marks the final stage of a 10-week week process that saw the three unlikely bedfellows forming a first-of-its-kind partnership in German federal government. 

The SPD’s Olaf Scholz is now due to be elected Chancellor of Germany on Wednesday and his newly finalised cabinet will be sworn in on the same day. This will mark the end of the 16-year Angela Merkel era following the veteran leader’s decision to retire from politics this year. 

Speaking at the ceremony in Berlin on Tuesday morning, Scholz declared it “a morning when we set out for a new government.”

He praised the speed at which the three parties had concluded their talks and said the fight against the Covid crisis would first require the full strength of the new coalition.

Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck, who is set to head up a newly formed environment and energy ministry, said the goal was “a government for the people of Germany”.

He stressed that the new government would face the joint challenge of bringing climate neutrality and prosperity together in Europe’s largest industrial nation and the world’s fourth largest economy.

Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock spoke of a coalition agreement “on the level of reality, on the level of social reality”.

FDP leader Christian Lindner, who managed to secure the coveted role of Finance Minister in the talks, declared that now was the “time for action”.

“We are not under any illusions,” he told people gathered at the ceremony. “These are great challenges we face.”

Scholz, Habeck and Lindner are scheduled to hold  a press conference before midday to answer questions on the goals of the new government.

‘New beginnings’

Together with the Greens and the FDP, Scholz’s SPD managed in a far shorter time than expected to forge a coalition that aspires to make Germany greener and fairer.

The Greens became the last of the three parties to agree on the contents of the 177-page coalition agreement an in internal vote on Monday, following approval from the SPD and FDP’s inner ranks over the weekend.

“I want the 20s to be a time of new beginnings,” Scholz told Die Zeit weekly, declaring an ambition to push forward “the biggest industrial modernisation which will be capable of stopping climate change caused by mankind”.

Putting equality rhetoric into practice, he unveiled the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet on Monday, with women in key security portfolios.

“That corresponds to the society we live in – half of the power belongs to women,” said Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”.

READ ALSO: Scholz names Germany’s first gender-equal cabinet

The centre-left’s return to power in Europe’s biggest economy could shift the balance on a continent still reeling from Brexit and with the other major player, France, heading into presidential elections in 2022.

But even before it took office, Scholz’s “traffic-light” coalition – named after the three parties’ colours – was already given a baptism of fire in the form of a fierce fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Balancing act
Dubbed “the discreet” by left-leaning daily TAZ, Scholz, 63, is often described as austere or robotic.
But he also has a reputation for being a meticulous workhorse.
An experienced hand in government, Scholz was labour minister in Merkel’s first coalition from 2007 to 2009 before taking over as vice chancellor and finance minister in 2015.
Yet his three-party-alliance is the first such mix at the federal level, as the FDP is not a natural partner for the SPD or the Greens.

Keeping the trio together will require a delicate balancing act taking into account the FDP’s business-friendly leanings, the SPD’s social equality instincts and the Greens’ demands for sustainability.

Under their coalition deal, the parties have agreed to secure Germany’s path to carbon neutrality, including through huge investments in sustainable energy.

They also aim to return to a constitutional no-new-debt rule – suspended during the pandemic – by 2023.

FDP cabinets
Volker Wissing (l-r), FDP General Secretary und designated Transport Minister, walks alongside Christian Lindner, FDP leader and designated Finance Minister, Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP), the incoming Education Minister, and Marco Buschmann, the incoming Justice Minister. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler


Incoming foreign minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens has vowed to put human rights at the centre of German diplomacy.

She has signalled a more assertive stance towards authoritarian regimes like China and Russia after the commerce-driven pragmatism of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Critics have accused Merkel of putting Germany’s export-dependent economy first in international dealings.

Nevertheless she is still so popular at home that she would probably have won a fifth term had she sought one.

The veteran politician is also widely admired abroad for her steady hand guiding Germany through a myriad of crises.