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Monday, October 18, 2021

Germany’s Armin Laschet signals his departure as CDU leader

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BERLIN — Armin Laschet, the leader of Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, signaled that he will step down after a disastrous general election result last month.

The CDU, together with its Bavarian partner, the Christian Social Union, finished second with 24.1 percent of the vote. The pairing lost more than a quarter of its support — or around 6.5 million voters — compared to the last election in 2017 when current Chancellor Angela Merkel was at the helm. 

At a press conference on Thursday evening, Laschet said he will convene a party conference in the coming weeks in order to solve what he referred to as the party’s “question of personnel.” He said the issue “needs to be addressed in other ways, perhaps unconventional ways,” insisting that there should be an end to the divisive internal power battles that followed Merkel’s resignation as party leader in 2018.

“[Since then] we have experienced an ongoing personnel debate,” said Laschet, “Always against each other, always in changing lineups, and we want to go a different way this time. We want to go a way of consensus and everyone would now be wise to stick to it.”

“We will also quickly tackle the renewal of the lineup of the CDU in terms of personnel, from the chairperson to the executive board to the federal board,” he said. The CDU should “make a new start with new personalities, whether in government or in opposition.”

After becoming party leader in January, Laschet struggled to secure majorities within his party’s own ranks to support his bid to be the conservative union’s candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor. The party establishment decided eventually to put him forward as their candidate anyway despite his low approval ratings.

A subsequent election campaign marred by gaffes and missteps did little to improve his fortunes with voters, leading to the party’s worst result since the war. That has triggered bitter recriminations within the CDU and with its CSU sister party. Though a coalition partnership with the Free Democrats (FDP) and Green Party is mathematically possible, Laschet’s legitimacy to lead such a government has been openly questioned from within his own party ranks.

Nonetheless, Laschet reiterated on Thursday that his party would remain open to coalition talks with the Greens and the FDP. “We don’t slam any doors,” he said, adding that “the CDU’s offer stands until the last second of the government formation process.”

But since the election on October 26, the triumphant Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) candidate, Olaf Scholz, has had an easier time making a case for his chancellorship at the head of a coalition teamed up with the same two smaller parties.

Scholz and the leaders of FDP and the Greens officially started negotiating a coalition agreement on Thursday, though it is expected to take weeks for the coalition talks to reach a conclusion.

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