German Right Picks Unpopular Laschet to Succeed Merkel

Voters would have preferred the more conservative leader of Bavaria, Markus Söder.

Armin Laschet
Minister President Armin Laschet of North Rhine-Westphalia makes a speech in the German Federal Council in Berlin, December 14, 2018 (Bundesrat/Sascha Radke)

Armin Laschet will lead Germany’s Christian Democrats into the September election. His rival, Markus Söder, bowed out after the executive committee of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the larger of the two “Union” parties, threw its weight behind Laschet in a late-night vote.

Following seven hours of debate about whether and how to vote, 31 of the committee’s 46 members backed Laschet in the early hours of Tuesday.

The alliance of the CDU, which competes in fifteen of Germany’s sixteen states, and Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) does not have a formal procedure for electing its joint chancellor candidate.


Söder’s supporters had suggested polling all 245 conservative lawmakers. Signs were the Bavarian had more support among the rank and file.

He is certainly more popular with voters. 38 percent of Germans named Söder as their preferred chancellor in an NTV-RTL survey last week. Only 17 percent picked Laschet. ARD put Söder’s support as high as 44 percent.

Support for the combined CDU/CSU has fallen from 40 percent in the opinion polls last summer to 26-29 percent; only a few points ahead of the Greens. If the Christian Democrats slide further, the Greens might be able to form a majority government with the Social Democrats and liberal Free Democrats.

This is one reason I argued for Söder: I expected he would be able to win back voters from the far right, which polls at 10-12 percent, without losing too many voters in the center.

Laschet, like outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel, appeals to those voters in the center, but he is unlikely to plug the gap on the right she leaves behind.


The other is that Söder’s Bavaria is a model for the rest of Germany.

Merkel presided over strong growth and low unemployment, but she neglected infrastructure and skills. Investments in rail are falling short. Germany’s 4G network is one of the worst in Europe. Only 35 percent of Germans in their early thirties have a higher degree compared to a eurozone average of 40 percent.

Bavaria’s tertiary education rate is a respectable 39.6 percent. Bavaria has 15 percent of Germany’s population, yet it produced 30 percent of its patents in 2019 and 20 percent in 2020.

Merkel abruptly shut eight of Germany’s seventeen nuclear reactors in 2011. Absent green alternatives, this increased reliance on coal and natural gas. Despite an expensive Energiewende, renewables meet just 12.5 percent of Germany’s energy needs. In Bavaria, the figure is 18 percent.

Laschet’s North Rhine-Westphalia, once the industrial heartland of (West) Germany, looks like the past. The state of its infrastructure has been described as “disastrous“. Its tertiary education rate is even lower than the national average: 32 percent. It has 21 percent of Germany’s population but just 10.5 percent of its patent applications. Annual incomes in North Rhine-Westphalia are almost €10,000 lower than in Bavaria.