Throughout her 16 years as Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel has earned a reputation for fostering consensus in the international community and for being a tireless advocate of the need to compromise with political adversaries. The man most likely to fill his job in September presents himself as someone with the ambition to surpass it.
Merkel’s CDU backs centrist Armin Laschet as candidate for German elections
Armin Laschet, leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and conservative candidate for the highest office in the federal elections on September 26, claims to have a strong commitment to the European project and to transatlantic relations, and to be a faithful ally of Israel.
On an extensive interview with The Guardian, This 60-year-old liberal conservative has stressed that his government would try to expand alliances [de Alemania y de la UE], urging its European partners to resume dialogue with Vladimir Putin and warns of the danger of breaking trade negotiations with China. He calls for more diplomacy in the EU’s relations with Hungary and Poland, and advises against escalating tensions with the UK.
“Even in the coldest moments of the cold wars there has always been commercial exchange and dialogue between civil societies,” says Laschet. “That has to be our principle, and at the same time we must advocate for the respect of human rights.”
The laughing Rhenish, current Prime Minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, has already shown his resilience in the campaign to become the favorite candidate of the CDU, beating the hard-line conservative Friedrich Merz and Prime Minister of Bavaria, Markus Söder.
Polls show that the CDU will gain positions in the post-Merkel era, leading by ten points over the Greens, who are in second place. A clear majority is unlikely for any coalition in which the CDU is not the most important party.
“Decade of modernization”
Laschet has promised a “decade of modernization” for Germany if he wins the election. During this conversation, he quotes reformist predecessors such as Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt, Helmut Kohl, and Gerhard Schröder, but not Merkel. “What is needed now is technological and procedural modernization. It is a need that existed before the pandemic, but now it has become more urgent.”
Citizen discontent over a vaccination campaign that has been delayed by cumbersome bureaucracy and an educational system that has struggled to adapt to distance learning during lockdown caused CDU approval ratings to plummet early. of year.
“There are too many decisions that are not taken quickly enough. The digitization of the administrative apparatus does not work well enough. All these processes have become too slow and lack the dynamism necessary to promote the transformation of an industrial society,” he says.
However, Laschet believes that, on many issues on the agenda, the course is already set and that, unlike Brandt, Kohl or Schröder, his mission will be less of persuasion than of implementation. The Franco-German treaty of Aachen, signed in his hometown in 2019, offered great “untapped potential” for military cooperation and joint economic projects on artificial intelligence research and battery production.
In his view, with the EU-driven pandemic recovery plan, enough steps have already been taken to stabilize the single market. “For the first time, we are contracting a joint debt, which goes against the basic strategy of Germany. It has been a big step for Germany, but necessary for our cohesion.”
The € 750 billion recovery fund will run through 2026, thus covering Laschet’s possible first term. It agrees with the position of his party that the distribution of the debt would continue to be something punctual. “It is not a permanent carte blanche for the EU to go into debt jointly in the future.”
As for measures to tackle the climate crisis, Laschet’s promise to voters is that key decisions have already been made, and their implementation will not pose a threat to German industry or a nuisance to citizens.
“We have stopped negotiating”
Laschet entered the European Parliament in 1999, shortly before Vladimir Putin was elected president of Russia for the first time, and some colleagues who agreed with him at that stage say that his perspective on geopolitical relations continues to be fueled by the optimism of that time. . In the two decades since, relations between Russia and Europe have deteriorated dramatically, despite Merkel’s attempt to maintain dialogue with the Kremlin.
“Diplomacy always has to find the right words,” says Laschet, insisting that the Franco-German diplomatic front that aimed to keep the channels of dialogue with Putin open prevented an escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
“But we have stopped negotiating. Only now are we beginning to realize that Europe is no longer talking to Putin. The president of the United States has started the dialogue, because the European Council does not agree to talk with Putin. This situation weakens Europe. ”
On Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline that connects Vyborg in Russia with Greifswald in Germany and which the Baltic and Eastern European states fear will increase Putin’s influence, Laschet says his party has already drawn clear red lines: “No there must be a geopolitical decision that hurts Ukraine. ”
Regarding Putin’s recent call on Ukraine to show “goodwill” in exchange for continued Russian gas flows, The Guardian he asks if this petition violates the basis for the completion of Nord Stream II. “If he turns his words into concrete actions, then yes we will be facing a violation,” he responds.
When referring to other diplomatic conflicts, the politician shows the same conciliatory spirit. “With China the situation is more complicated. Breaking diplomatic relations and banning all forms of trade, would that be a smart response? I don’t think so.”
“We have to continue talking with Poland and Hungary”
The repression of the rights of the LGBTQ community and the plurality of the media in Poland and Hungary has caused Western European politicians to call for financial sanctions, but Laschet is in favor of acting in moderation. “We have to continue to dialogue with Poland and Hungary as well, despite all the challenges related to the rule of law, which concern me.”
During Laschet’s time in Strasbourg, Britain was often shown as a counterpoint to Franco-German plans for further European integration. In this sense, he considers that Brexit has left a vacuum. “Britain as a small island off the coast of the United States, that’s how de Gaulle saw it, but I don’t share that view.”
“I have a personal affinity for the UK and I regret that the British have decided to leave the EU […] But that decision has been made, and we have to think about how we want to articulate our future relationship with a European neighbor and 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 says.
He advises the European Commission not to escalate the recent confrontation with the United Kingdom over the Northern Ireland protocol, the part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement that aims to avoid checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. “The European Commission has a clear and coherent position, but it seems that the United Kingdom wants to depart from the agreements reached jointly. And it is not an option. But at the same time it is clear: in the face of the conflicts that arise in the world, we have to stand together and find a solution. China and Russia pose entirely new challenges that require us to stick together. We must seek sustainable solutions, not scale. ”
Red lines in Germany
In Germany, Laschet’s steadfastness in keeping potential opponents within the structure has drawn criticism of his management over Hans-Georg Maaßen, a former head of the national intelligence agency who has devoted himself to sharing populist conspiracy theories of rights in social networks and is running for a parliamentary seat for the CDU. In a recent interview, Maaßen claimed that journalists linked to far-left circles had infiltrated German national broadcasting.
Laschet has not wanted to position himself against the controversial candidate. “The red lines are very clear. With right-wing populist parties like the AfD [Alternative für Deutschland], there will be no talks, no cooperation, no coalition, no nothing. That is a firm line that no one can cross. ”
Asked whether he would recommend that Germans vote for the former spy chief, Laschet replies: “The voters in his constituency […] they will decide if he is the right candidate. ”
Merkel earned the reputation of being a politician capable of generating consensus in the international sphere by demonstrating that she could make difficult decisions that went beyond her most immediate national interest, pushing sanctions against Russia for the annexation of Ukraine in 2014 or engaging with dissidents. like Alexei Navalny or Liu Xia. His successor has yet to earn that trust.
Asked if he could give an example where he has had to put a political opponent in his place during his career, Laschet was evasive. “It has always helped me not to speak publicly about who I have put on your site. You always have to know what resources you have.”
Translated by Emma Reverter