When Angela Merkel steps down from her position as Chancellor of Germany after the country’s federal elections due in September this year, a contest in the party to fill her role will begin. Merkel has served four terms as the Chancellor and has been a huge influence in European politics during the last 16 years. A former leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), her exit will also put pressure on the party to find a suitable candidate for the upcoming Chancellor election. Armin Laschet, Friedrich Merz, and Jens Spahn are some of the conservative candidates who experts feel have the best chance of becoming the next Chancellor of Germany, one of the most powerful positions in Europe.
Laschet was recently selected as the successor of Merkel to head the CDU. As such, he has the best chance, according to some. Rather than defining himself as right or left-wing, Laschet often refers to himself as a centrist. In the CDU election that took place online during a digital party conference, Laschet beat his closest opponent Friedrich Merz with 521-466 votes. “I keep hearing that you also have to be able to polarise. I say: no, you don’t have to… You have to master the tools of centrist politics, the ability to unite,” he said in his candidacy speech. But despite his win, Laschet’s candidacy is not yet certain. Merz has called on his party to only decide on a candidate after the state elections, which are due in March. Besides the obvious advantage of being party leader, he also seems to have Merkel’s nod of approval, as she admitted that he has the “tools” necessary to be the Chancellor. This is the closest she has come to vouching for anyone.
A firm conservative, Merz is a popular figure in the CDU. Back in 2002, he was pushed out from his role as parliamentary leader of the CDU by Merkel. He has been out of the Bundestag, or Federal Parliament, since 2009. In the ensuing years, Merz has built a successful business career and maintained an influential network among CDU party members. In 2018, he came back to politics. Merz holds sway among the traditionalist members of the party who have long been discontent by Merkel’s liberal policies. In contrast, some people see him as “out of step with the times” due to his uncompromising conservative values. Pepijn Bergsen, a research fellow at the Chatham House think tank, notes that Merz has come back to the CDU as he believes that Merkel has pushed the party too much to the center.
Spahn is currently the health minister of Germany. His handling of the coronavirus outbreak has boosted his popularity among party members. Officially, Spahn supports Laschet for the role of Chancellor. However, if Laschet does not garner much support, Spahn might throw his name in the ring and fight for the position himself. The 40-year-old would be one of the youngest candidates for the post of Chancellor. Some people see him as a mix of several ideological positions. For instance, he is a strong catholic, while also being openly gay, and economically liberal. Spahn was extremely critical of Merkel for her open-door immigration policy during the 2015 migrant crisis. He is quite popular with the public, as seen in a poll conducted by Kantar, where 50 percent of the survey respondents supported Spahn to play a bigger role in German politics this year, up from 28 percent in late 2019. “Spahn is clearly the winner of the year… From the point of view of the people, he is cutting a positive figure on coronavirus policy,” Kantar’s Torsten Schneider-Haase said to a local paper.