German CDU top brass back Laschet as chancellor candidate

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The executive committee of Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU) backed party chairman Armin Laschet on Monday as the conservative bloc’s candidate for chancellor at federal elections in September, party sources said.

Committee members attested to Laschet’s “ability to bring opinions together, to develop a stance and to represent it consistently”, the sources said.

The candidacy question came to a head on Sunday when Markus Soeder, leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU, put himself forward to run and said he would settle the question soon and amicably with Laschet, his rival.

Pressure is mounting for a swift decision on who should stand for the two-party bloc as the candidate to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has ruled out standing for a fifth term.

As the larger partner in the CDU/CSU alliance, the CDU’s choice of candidate is likely to be decisive, sources in the alliance say.

The CDU’s wider federal board meets after the executive committee, or praesidium, and Laschet plans to hold a news conference at around 1 p.m. (1100 GMT). The CSU meets in the afternoon in Munich.

Laschet, 60, is a centrist widely seen as a candidate who would continue Merkel’s legacy, but he has clashed with her over coronavirus restrictions. Premier of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, his chaotic handling of the crisis has undermined his popularity.

Soeder, 54, is an astute political operator who has sided with Merkel during the pandemic. No CSU leader has become German chancellor.

Many conservatives are nervous about contesting the Sept. 26 federal election without Merkel, who has led them to four victories. She has not explicitly backed either candidate but has hinted that she would back the CDU leader.

The conservative bloc has slipped to about 27% in polls, partly due to an increasingly chaotic management of the pandemic. In the 2017 election, it won almost 33%.

The Social Democrats have nominated Finance Minister Olaf Scholz as their candidate for chancellor, while the Greens plan to announce their nomination on April 19.

Photo: State Premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party chairman Armin Laschet (L) and State Premier of Bavaria and Christian Social Union (CSU) chairman Markus Soeder (R) pose after a joint press conference on the occasion of a closed door faction meeting of CDU and CSU in Berlin, Germany. EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN / POOL