Who is Armin Laschet? What CDU candidate could mean for Germany and the EU


Angela Merkel’s replacement to lead the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Armin Laschet, is hoping to take over where Ms Merkel left off, and carry on the CDU’s long history of power in Germany. But a series of gaffes during the campaign has led to a negative public perception which has seen the party punished in the polls – the latest reading from the Politico Poll of Polls forecasts the CDU to win just 21 percent of the vote against the Social Democrats 26 percent, with the gap widening.

Who is Armin Laschet?

Armin Laschet, 60, is currently the premier of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).

The son of a coalminer-turned-teacher, Mr Laschet grew up in a devout Catholic household in Germany’s westernmost city, Aachen, with three brothers.

His life revolved around the church, where he was an altar server as well as a member of the choir, which is where he met his childhood sweetheart and future wife, Susanne, a bookseller with family roots over the Belgian border in French-speaking Wallonia.

Both Mr Laschet and his wife are fluent French speakers. The couple have three adult children.

Mr Laschet is known for being a homebody, still living where he was born, in the Burtscheid district of Aachen.

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The family home is said to be a modest one in a spielstrasse – a street free of traffic to allow children to play.

The core of his social network is said to have remained more or less the same tight circle of family, church and school friends for six decades.

Apart from periods spent studying in Munich and Bonn, Mr Laschet’s private life has barely extended more than a few kilometres beyond Burtscheid, quite the contrast to the metropolis of Berlin, which he would have to get used to should he become chancellor.

He studied law in Munich, trained as a journalist and was editor-in-chief of the church newspaper for the Aachen diocese.

He became a member of the conservative Catholic student association Aenania and has nurtured the contacts of its members throughout his political career, even as he has tried to present himself as a more liberal Catholic despite rejecting the idea that homosexual couples should have equal rights in German family and tax law.

Laschet became a city councillor in Aachen after failing to complete his law exams and was elected to the Bundestag in 1994, subsequently becoming an MEP.

He was appointed the country’s first integration minister in NRW in 2005, declaring Germany to be a “multicultural society”, which earned him ridicule from right-wing members of the party.

He went on to become the regional CDU head, before rising quickly in 2017 to the post of state leader of NRW – an industrial region, which before he took the reins had been a longtime stronghold of the left-of-centre Social Democrats.

He said: “We’re not going to start changing our whole approach, just because of a day like this.”

The remark did not go down well at a time when many people were already beginning to talk about ways to adapt to extreme weather events and combat global warming.

He tried to remedy this in a later interview, but ended up doing more harm than good.

In the interview, shared extensively on social media, he was unable to give more than two examples of political areas he wanted to focus on as a chancellor: Digitalisation and climate change.

“We all need to do what we can to combat climate change”, he U-turned. But people wondered, what does he really stand for?

Then there was the video, which also went viral, which showed Mr Laschet enjoying a hearty laugh and joke with some local officials in the flood-hit region, just as the region’s president spoke of hock and profound concern for local people, many of whom had lost everything.

He apologised repeatedly, but the damage was done, and the CDU – which has been in power for 51 of the past 71 years – now faces a historic defeat.

If he were to win, Mr Laschet has long maintained that his preferred coalition partner would be the pro-free market Liberal Democrats (FDP), which would be welcome news to the EU, with the bloc keen to keep free trade moving in the wake of Brexit.

But he is also a figure who could conceivably form an easy alliance with the Greens after September. Mr Laschet and the Green Party go way back: After his entry into the Bundestag in 1994, Laschet quickly helped to build a relationship between his CDU and the Greens.

No two-party coalition is likely to get a majority in the new parliament so a three-way coalition with the Greens and the FDP may be Mr Laschet’s preferred option.

But even a coalition with the Social Democrats, the junior partners to Angela Merkel for the past eight years, is thinkable.

However, if the CDU does not manage to remain the strongest bloc in the new parliament, Mr Laschet may well have no role at all to play on the federal level any time soon.



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