Up until the moment Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced she would step down, the idea of Armin Laschet leading the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was lost on many.
A December 2018 opinion poll revealed that Laschet, the premier of Germany’s most populous state NRW, was anything but a hot contender to succeed the CDU party leader Kramp-Karrenbauer — let alone Chancellor Angela Merkel.
But that has all changed.
He has not signaled that he wishes to run for either post — possibly because his position as NRW state premier automatically makes him a potential candidate to succeed Kramp-Karrenbauer and Merkel.
The 58-year-old, who was born in Aachen, has headed a coalition government with Germany’s free-market Free Democrats (FDP) since spring 2017. And approval ratings for the NRW branch of his CDU party have since been solid.
‘Master of the non-commital’
What, then, explains his success? For one, Laschet’s affable personality, as FDP Vice-Chairman Wolfgang Kubicki recently attested. “He’s a likable person, someone who can win others over and unite them — all while being the master of the non-commital,” Kubicki said.
“I assume this is precisely why he will become the CDU’s candidate for chancellor,” he added.
Several years ago, nobody would have guessed that Laschet would be tipped to play such a big role in German politics. After all, following four years as a member of the German parliament, the Bundestag, Laschet lost his seat in 1998.
Between 2005 and 2010, he served as a minister in the NRW state government headed by then-Premier Jürgen Rüttgers — a historical anomaly as the state had been a Social Democratic stronghold for decades.
Laschet, a former journalist, made a name for himself as the state’s very first minister for integration. Due to his liberal stance and nuanced reasoning concerning integration and immigration matters, political adversaries disparagingly called him “Turkish Armin.”
Later, as NRW’s opposition leader with the CDU, Laschet weathered plenty more criticism. But he persevered, showing that despite his jovial nature, he is a serious politician to be reckoned with. And so, in 2017, he became the NRW state premier.
Laschet is considered a staunch Merkel loyalist. During Germany’s 2015 refugee crisis, he gave her his unwavering support. Today, however, both Merkel and Laschet advocate a somewhat tougher stance on asylum-seekers.
Laschet was also a member of the so-called Pizza Connection, which saw young CDU lawmakers and members of the Greens meet in the wine cellar of an Italian restaurant in Bonn, Germany’s then-capital, to identify political commonalities and differences between both parties.
Expert on coalition governments
Laschet maintains this Pizza-Connection network to this day, with many of those who participated in those informal meetings now in leading position in the CDU and Green party. Surveys show that a coalition between both could be possible, and Laschet would be the ideal candidate to make it happen — especially since he is regarded as somewhat of a Green Christian Democrat, even though he is governing in a coalition with the FDP.
But Laschet would also know how to bring together the CDU, Greens and FDP for a three-party coalition, a proposal he is said to have strongly supported. Indeed, there were already tentative plans to create such an alliance in 2017. The endeavor ultimately failed when the FDP pulled out of talks, however.
Laschet’s private life, meanwhile, exemplifies his liberal-conservative mindset: he has been married to his wife, Susanne, since his early 20s. The two have known each other since childhood and the pair have three children. Laschet is an ardent football fan, enjoys vacationing in Italy, loves Lake Constance and crime novels.