Until yesterday, the name of Armin Laschet was as unfamiliar to me as I am guessing it was to most of you. Yet, if certain events go a certain way, by the end of 2021 that name will be a household one.
Over the weekend, Mr Laschet, currently the premier of federal Germany’s most populous state (North Rhine-Westphalia), was elected as the new leader of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party. This in itself does not invest him with any new executive power, but it does put him in pole position to succeed Angela Merkel as the CDU’s choice for chancellor in the elections to be held later this year.
At 59, the slightly portly Mr Laschet does not perhaps represent an exciting vision of a bold new future. However, at a time of great uncertainty, his centrist, technocratic style is what Germany, and Europe, need more of. He saw off a challenge from the right of the party, with Merkel’s tacit support. His politics positions him well to work with the incoming Biden administration, especially on issues such as climate change. And he is generally regarded to have performed well in his role as premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, a region that traditionally prefers the CDU’s main opponents, the Social Democratic party.
It is not guaranteed that Mr Laschet will be the CDU’s candidate. He may, if the polls show that he cannot win, decline to press for the nomination and support another prominent CDU figure, especially as his predecessor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (who succeeded Merkel as party leader in 2018), was unable to make her own brand of reconciliatory politics work.
That said, if he is the nominee, and then becomes chancellor, history suggests he will be around for a while. Angela Merkel is only the fourth chancellor of Germany (including pre-reunification) since 1974. The ‘grand alliance’ between the CDU and the SDP is not to everyone’s taste, and the rise of the right-wing AfD party in recent years is cause for concern, but overall Germany has a political stability that, right now, is the envy of the UK and other western nations.
So, this is a heads up – Armin Laschet may be a familiar presence in our lives for years to come. Or he may drift away almost as quickly as he arrived. Whatever his own personal fate, the shoes that need filling at the end of this year are immense, and we hope that Angela Merkel’s successor proves to be as equally formidable.