Germany: CDU elects new leader

Armin Laschet's win signals the maintenance of Angela Merkel's brand of centrist politics, but questions remain over what this will mean for the upcoming German federal election.

Over the weekend, a virtual convention of the governing CDU party in Germany saw the incumbent Minister President of the North Rhein Westfalen Armin Laschet beat out his two competitors Friedrich Merz and Norbert Röttgen, making him the new party chair, in succession of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. The vote is yet to be formalised through a confirmatory mail-in ballot among delegates – which is done to avoid legal challenges of the result – but is highly unlikely to change the election outcome.

NOVE has prepared a short note to break down the impact of the election for the CDU and the upcoming federal elections.


Impact on CDU and their policies

Laschet, largely regarded as the ideological successor of Angela Merkel, prevailed in the second round of the election. He was selected over the conservative ex-CDU Bundestag faction leader Merz, who had a plurality in the first round. A combination of the Merkelite centrist core he carried and modern younger conservatives who supported his running-mate and current health Minister Jens Spahn, secured Laschet the narrow victory [521 to 466].

This coalition is also likely to direct CDU’s policies long term. This course will likely follow Merkel’s doctrine of pragmatism and asymmetric disengagement, which aims to absorb policies of the opponents and reduce the differences between CDU and other parties. In practical terms, it could mean a continued encroachment of CDU on the territory of the Greens when it comes to climate and energy policies, while pursuing a conservative fiscal policy and centrist inclusive social agenda.

As a former MEP and a staunch pro-European, Laschet will continue to promote intensive engagement of both Germany and CDU in European politics. However, ensuring unity within the CDU will be the first priority for the leader, who narrowly won the election in the second consecutive contest in little over two years in which the large [mainly middle age and older, and mainly male] conservative block within the party clearly expressed their preference for a different path. It could yield some unusual policy approaches in the runup to the 2021 general election.


Impact on the 2021 federal election

This year’s general election in Germany is the most significant immediate milestone to look at following the CDU leadership election. Laschet will lead CDU, but it remains uncertain if he will be the candidate for Chancellor of the CDU/CSU coalition. In fact, the leader of the “sister party” CSU Markus Soder has been polling well above Laschet.

Depending on the showing of CDU in the regional elections in Laschet’s neighbouring Rhineland-Palatine and Baden -Württemberg federal states mid-March, Soder could have a decent claim for the chancellor candidate status.

The second level of speculation relates to coalition partners that CDU/CSU would pick to govern with [since the outbreak of COVID-19, CDU/CSU has consistently been polling with a double digits lead over their opponents]. Recent surveys show no appetite for another “Grand Coalition”, so two distinct options remain – a coalition with the Greens or with the Liberals (FDP).

The first option could prove dangerous internally, widening the gap between the centrist and the conservative wings of the party, which could possibly alienate many of the rural voters who made the CDU the last big-tent party in Europe. There is already a coalition of the EPP party and the Greens in Austria [which has served as a political litmus for the EPP in the past] and, depending on the polling trends of the Austrian People’s Party (OVP, EPP), which at the moment keeps steady numbers, it could lead to a similar arrangement in Germany. Granted, making such a coalition in Austria has been easier, with the OVP clearly dominating with three times as many votes as the Greens.

Deciding how to position the CDU next to the Greens will be the major factor in deciding whether or not to make the coalition with the traditional liberal partners from FDP, too. While that coalition had traditionally functioned in an effective manner, in this environment the pro-business nature of such a coalition would likely provide more room for the Greens to make gains [granted, this would most likely be at the expense of the S&D’s PSD party] in the coming period and delay the “green positioning” of CDU.


Biographical background

Armin Laschet is a veteran politician with more than 25 years of legislative and executive experience. He served as a Bundestag member and an MEP (from 1999 to 2005, sitting in the committees on Budget and Foreign Affairs), Minister President of NRW, and as one of the deputy leaders of CDU. The son of a coal miner, he comes from a staunchly catholic conservative background [both parents are Belgian], which could appease the concerns of conservatives within the CDU. He worked for a Bavarian newspaper, which could go a long way to repairing the shaken foundations of the CDU/CSU coalition. He is far from an anti-establishment outsider, but rather a figure of the CDU mainstream, being also part of minister Peter Altmaier’s [representative of the pro-business faction in CDU] team for coalition negotiations with the SPD during the last government formation.



High ranking CDU-representatives like chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as his competitors Röttgen and Merz congratulated Laschet. CSU leader Söder also congratulated him, while avoiding a clear answer on whether the election also meant Laschet would lead the Conservative election campaign.

Opposition politicians from Greens, SPD and FDP were also congratulatory, stating they were looking forward to competing with him poltically. Representatives of the far-right AfD expressed disappointment over the result, calling the expected continuation of Merkel’s course “bad news for Germany”

Industry federations mainly reacted to  the result by stating their political expectations for the new leader. The Federation of German Industry (Bund der Industrie, BDI), congratulated Laschet, calling on the new leader to “immediately start advocating for necessary investments” to enhance Germany’s competitive position.


Interested in learning more about the potential impact of these developments on the EU and the European Parliament? Which MEPs are likely to be important bridge-builders between Brussels and Berlin? For more in-depth analysis, feel free to contact us at admin@nove.eu.