Meet Armin Laschet, the king of comebacks grasping for Merkel’s throne

Armin Laschet had looked down and out in the race to succeed Angela Merkel as Germany's next chancellor, facing dismal public approval ratings and ridicule over his inconsistent virus management.

Meet Armin Laschet, the king of comebacks grasping for Merkel's throne
A press conference for Laschet on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

But the affable Merkel loyalist staged a stunning comeback to be confirmed on Tuesday as the conservative candidate for chancellor in this year’s election, beating popular favourite Markus Söder.

Leading the CDU and the CSU, its smaller Bavarian sister party, into the general election on September 26th will be a gargantuan task, with the parties facing dismal ratings amid anger over Germany’s faltering pandemic management.

Laschet is also deeply unpopular with the public himself, with just 12 percent of Germans saying they thought he would be a good chancellor candidate in one recent survey for business daily Handelsblatt.

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

But coming back from behind has always been a speciality for Laschet, as Der Spiegel news magazine observed when he beat the odds to be elected as head of the CDU in January.

The 60-year-old political moderate with a reputation for pragmatism has an uncanny ability to “sit out his opponents”, the magazine noted.

“He does not aim for a quick knockout, but wears down his opponents slowly, continuously, with great endurance.”


He also outperformed the polls to deliver a strong performance for the CDU last year in a regional election in Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where he is state premier.

A sworn Merkel loyalist, Laschet famously backed the chancellor during the fallout from the 2015 refugee crisis.

Laschet speaking at a CDU election campaign. Photo: DPA

But he appeared to chart a course away from Merkel in March when he defied the chancellor’s pleas for harder shutdown measures from the leaders of Germany’s 16 states.

Laschet defended North Rhine-Westphalia’s broad interpretation of national virus measures, calling for “more freedom and flexibility”.

He was also panned on social media for saying he needed time to “think about” how to deal with Germany’s raging third wave, and accused of flip-flopping when he called for a “bridge lockdown” until more people were vaccinated.

The daily Süddeutsche Zeitung has noted that he is seen as “indecisive, sometimes acting impulsively”.

‘Passionate European’

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

A sworn defender of multiculturalism, he has a reputation for being even more pro-migration than Merkel.

The father of three 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.

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

READ ALSO: Merkel’s conservatives confirm Laschet for chancellor candidate as Söder concedes

But Laschet also plays up his common man image, telling party members in January how his father fed the family digging for coal.

“When you’re down in the mine, it doesn’t matter where your colleague comes from, what his religion is or what he looks like. What is important is, can you rely on him,” he said.

Laschet studied law and political science in Munich and Bonn before working as a journalist for Bavarian radio stations and television, and as the editor of a Catholic newspaper.

A fluent French speaker and self-described “passionate European”, he was elected to the Bundestag in 1994 and to the European Parliament in 1999.

He became head of the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia in 2012 and has been state premier since 2017 — an election he won coming up from behind in the polls.

By Femke Colbourne

Member comments

  1. Laschet is the worst choice the CDU-CSU could have made to replace Angela Merkel. Markus Söder could have carried the party to be the next chancellor. This guy should stay in NRW and plan the next Karneval. Only 11% of the peoplel like him. This is bad joke.

  2. “Bad joke” says ‘deu152’. But wouldn’t it be good, just once in a while, to have a real human being in charge, rather than a grasping, slippery pole-climbing, self-serving individual? Lachet has a proven track record as a political warrior and I like the label that he’s a man ‘too nice for politics’. Söder, on the other hand is highly ambitious and occasionally displays a touch of the demagogue. You wonder what he could turn into if given the full reins of power.

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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.