Armin Laschet was today chosen by grandees of Germany’s ruling centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to run in September’s German election, becoming the likely successor to chancellor Angela Merkel.
Laschet was already leader of the CDU, however he still faced a challenge by Bavarian state premier Markus Söder to represent the party at the country’s federal election.
With the CDU on track to win another election in opinion polling, Laschet looks destined to become the country’s next chancellor after Merkel steps down.
But who is the man on track to become one of the most powerful people in Europe?
Minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia
Laschet has been the minister-president of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, since 2017.
The region has a population of 17.9m people and includes the cities of Cologne, Dortmund, Essen and Düsseldorf.
Crime and security has been one of Laschet’s main priorities in the role, with the region suffering form the increasing influence of organised crime in recent years.
The region’s economy saw falling unemployment under his watch from 2017 to 2020, however the coronavirus bucked this trend to send the jobless rate to 7.7 per cent as of last month.
This is 1.5 per cent higher than the national rate.
Leader of the CDU
Laschet was chosen as CDU leader in January, after Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer resigned just two years into the role.
Kramp-Karrenbauer was expected to be Merkel’s successor as German chancellor, however she was forced to resign due to persistent unpopularity and a political crisis in the state of Thuringia that saw her lose control of party discipline.
CDU members in the state legislature gave their confidence to a candidate from the far-right Alternative for Germany to form power after a state election against the orders of Kramp-Karrenbauer.
Laschet was seen as a candidate that would continue Merkel’s brand of centrism, despite calls from some corners of the party to jerk to the right in order to fight off Alternative for Germany’s increasing popularity.
The Merkel ally said on his election as party leader that “the CDU remains Germany’s Europe party”.
Laschet was an MEP from 1999 to 2005 for the CDU-aligned European People’s Party.
He is a noted European integrationist and has on occasion criticised Merkel for not pushing this agenda further.
He has called for the EU to take greater control of security and climate change policy for the 27 member states.
The CDU leader has also called for elections to decide who runs the European Commission instead of the current arrangement where the president is chosen by unelected commissioners.
Laschet has characterised himself as being fiscally cautious and has worked with the pro-business Liberal Democrats in his role as minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Merkel has long had a penchant for fiscal restraint, holding onto a policy of balanced budgets for almost a decade leading to 2020.
Laschet would have been expected to follow her example, however the pandemic has forced all western European countries to spend record amounts to keep their respective economies afloat.
The next chancellor will have tough decisions to make on fiscal policy post-Covid as they inherit a depressed economy and high levels of debt.