ORIn her 16 years as German Chancellor, Angela Merkel has earned a reputation as the world’s go-to consensus maker, a tireless compromise maker between political opponents. The man most likely to step into her shoes this September presents himself as someone with the ambition to surpass her.
Armin Laschet, leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and a conservative candidate for the top job in the federal elections on September 26, says he is a passionate European, a committed ocean liner and a trusted ally of Israel.
But in a broad interview with The Guardian, the 60-year-old liberal conservative emphasized that his foreign ministry would seek to expand the church, urging Europe to re-engage with Vladimir Putin, warning against breaking off trade talks with China. , calling for more diplomacy in the EU’s dealings with Hungary and Poland, and warning against escalating tensions with the UK.
“Even in the coldest cold wars there was always an economic exchange and dialogue between civil societies,” Laschet said. “That has to be our principle, all while urging respect for human rights.”
The cheerful Rhenish, currently prime minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, has already demonstrated his staying power in the race to become the CDU’s top candidate, overcoming the challenges of hard-line conservative Friedrich Merz and Prime Minister from the state of Bavaria, Markus Söder.
Polls show that the CDU extends its dominance into the post-Merkel era, leading the Greens in second place by about 10 points, with no clear majority likely for any coalition in which the CDU does not play the leading role.
If he succeeds in September, Laschet has promised a “decade of modernization” for Germany. In his conversation with The Guardian, he cited reformist predecessors such as Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt, Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder, though not Merkel.
“What is due now is a technological and procedural modernization. It was already winning before the pandemic, but the pandemic made us experience it even stronger, ”Laschet said.
Anger over a vaccination program that was held back by a cumbersome bureaucracy and an education system struggling to switch to remote teaching led to the CDU’s approval ratings plummeting earlier in the year.
“Too many decisions are not made quickly enough. The digitization of the administrative apparatus is not working sufficiently. All these processes have become too quiet and lack the dynamism necessary to shape the transformation of an industrial society. “
But in most areas, Laschet suggested, the course is already set and, unlike Brandt, Kohl, or Schröder, their mission would be less of persuasion than implementation. The Franco-German treaty of Aachen, signed in his hometown in 2019, provided plenty of “as yet untapped potential” for military cooperation and joint economic projects on artificial intelligence research and battery cell production, he said.
With the EU pandemic recovery plan, enough steps have already been taken to stabilize the single market, he said. “For the first time, we contracted joint debt, which goes against the basic philosophy of Germany. This was a great step for Germany, but necessary for our cohesion ”.
The € 750 billion recovery fund should last until 2026, thus covering Laschet’s possible first term in office. He agreed with his party’s position that debt sharing would remain exceptional. “It is not a permanent carte blanche for the EU to incur joint debts in the future.”
As for measures to address the climate crisis, too, Laschet’s promise to voters is that key decisions have already been made, and their implementation will pose no threat to German industry or the personal inconvenience of its citizens.
Laschet entered the European parliament in 1999, shortly before Vladimir Putin was elected Russian president for the first time, and some former colleagues say his outlook on geopolitical relations is still fueled by the optimism of that time. In the two decades since then, relations between Russia and Europe have deteriorated dramatically, despite Merkel’s attempt to maintain a dialogue with the Kremlin.
“Diplomacy needs as many words as it can find,” Laschet said, insisting that Franco-German efforts to keep an open line with Putin had stopped the escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
“But we have stopped negotiating. We are only now beginning to realize that Europe is no longer in dialogue with Putin. The US president has started the dialogue, because the European Council cannot agree on whether to speak with Putin. Such a situation weakens Europe. “
At Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline connecting Vyborg in Russia to Greifswald in Germany and which the Baltic and Eastern European states fear will increase Putin’s influence, Laschet said his party had drawn clear red lines. “There should be no geopolitical decision that harms Ukraine,” he said.
But he was asked whether Putin’s recent call to Ukraine to show “goodwill” In exchange for the continued transits of Russian gas that had already violated the basis for the completion of Nord Stream II, Laschet said: “If you turn your words into concrete actions, then that is a violation.”
It is equally moderate in other diplomatic conflicts. “With China the situation is more complicated. Breaking diplomatic relations and banning all forms of trade, would that be a smart response? I do not believe it.”
Cracking down on LGBTQ rights and media diversity in Poland and Hungary have prompted calls for financial sanctions from Western European politicians, but Laschet advocated restraint. “We have to maintain a dialogue with Poland and Hungary as well, despite all the problems with the rule of law that concern me.”
During Laschet’s time in Strasbourg, the United Kingdom often proved to be a replica of Franco-German plans for further European integration. But he says that Brexit has left a hole. “Britain as a small island off the coast of the United States, that’s how De Gaulle saw it, but that’s not my opinion.
“I have a personal affinity for the UK and I am very sorry that the British left the EU […] But that decision has been made, and we must think about how we want to shape our future relationship with a European neighbor and a NATO ally. We have to make sure that young people from Germany and Great Britain continue to get to know each other even without a common market and without an Erasmus program ”.
He advised the European Commission not to escalate the recent clash with the United Kingdom over the Northern Ireland protocol, the part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement that is aimed at avoiding checks at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
“The European Commission has a clear and coherent position, but it seems that Great Britain wants to depart from the agreements reached. That cannot happen. But at the same time it is clear: with a view to the conflicts we face in this world, we have to come together and find a solution. China and Russia pose entirely new challenges that require us to be united. Our attitude should be to find sustainable solutions, not to scale ”.
In Germany, Laschet’s determination to keep potential opponents in the tent has led to criticism for his handling of Hans-Georg Maaßen, a former head of the national intelligence agency who has begun to share right-wing populist conspiracy theories in the social media and is now running for a parliamentary seat for the CDU. In a recent interview, Maaßen claimed that Germany’s national broadcaster had been infiltrated by journalists with links to left-wing extremist circles.
Laschet refused to fire the controversial candidate when asked. “The red lines are very clear. With right-wing populist parties like the AfD [Alternative für Deutschland], there will be no talks, there will be no cooperation, there will be no coalition, there will be nothing. That is an absolute line that no one can cross. “
When asked if he would recommend that Germans vote for the former spy chief, Laschet said: “Voters in his constituency […] he will decide if he is the right candidate. “
Merkel earned consensus-building status on the international stage by showing that she could make difficult decisions that went beyond her immediate national interest, pushing for sanctions against Russia for the 2014 annexation of Ukraine, or engaging with dissidents such as Alexei Navalny or Liu Xia. His pending successor has yet to earn that trust.
When asked to give a personal example from his political career in which he had faced a political opponent, Laschet was evasive. “It has always served me well not to make public who I have put in his place. You always have to know the means at your disposal ”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism