German Election: Who Could Succeed Angela Merkel As Chancellor?

Olaf Scholz, centre-left Social Democrats Olaf Scholz, centre-left Social Democrats

The race to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor is wide open, but the rivals all face the same tough challenge: how do you stand out, overshadowed by such a political colossus?

Mrs Merkel has dominated German politics for 16 years as chancellor. Her would-be successors have to make their mark before the September federal election.

Here is a quick guide to who they are, with an assessment by our correspondent Damien McGuinness, in Berlin, of the chances they have.

Armin Laschet, centre-right CDU/CSU

He was the front runner but his campaign has foundered, mostly as a result of his own unforced errors.

MrLaschet, 60, is the leader of Chancellor Merkel's centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and premier of heavily industrial North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany's most populous state.

He only narrowly secured the nomination to be the candidate for chancellor, defeating his Bavarian rival, Markus Söder, after the party leadership rallied behind him.

Support for the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, was already waning because of the pandemic. MrLaschet himself was accused of inconsistencies and poor management of Covid-19 in NRW.

And then in July, MrLaschet was caught on camera laughing as the president of Germany made a speech in a town which had been largely destroyed by catastrophic flooding. His reputation was badly damaged and has not recovered.

One poll on 2 September indicated the CDU/CSU had slipped to a record low of 20%, overtaken by the SPD on 25%. Another, on 31 August, suggested just 10% of voters would prefer MrLaschet as chancellor over his rivals.

The son of a miner, and a lawyer by training, for years MrLaschet defended Germany's powerful coal industry. He has stood by the decision not to bring forward the end of using coal for energy from 2038.

He is well-connected internationally and is firmly pro-EU: he served as a Euro MP and hails from Aachen, a border city with strong French ties.

In 2005 he became minister for integration in his home region, the first such post in Germany, and forged strong ties with its large ethnic Turkish community. He firmly backed Mrs Merkel's lenient but controversial policy on immigration in 2015, when more than a million migrants reached Germany.

The Catholic Church was a strong influence on him as a boy, through his devout parents and his Church-run school. He is married, with three adult children.

What are his chances? Armin Laschet has abruptly dropped any pretence at being a Merkel-style centrist and come out as a traditionalist right-wing fighter, writes the BBC's Damien McGuinness in Berlin. His conservative allies are thrilled, but it's a sign of how badly his campaign is doing.

Until recently the CDU/CSU had hoped to win over Germany's middle-ground, and ideally score over 30%. That now seems unfeasible. So Armin Laschet is suddenly tacking right, and catering to core conservatives. The party would now settle for the low 20s on election night - as long as it's just a few percentage points more than left-wing rivals.

It's a risky tactic, given elections are usually won in the centre ground. But it might still just make MrLaschet Germany's next chancellor.

AnnalenaBaerbock, GreensThe only woman in the race to succeed Angela Merkel, she is the Greens' first-ever candidate for chancellor.

A former trampoline champion from a village outside the northern city of Hanover, MsBaerbock, 40, studied law and politics in Hamburg and London and worked for the Greens in the European Parliament.

Earlier this year, the Green surged in the polls, with support rising above 25% and a focus on MsBaerbock. However, her reputation was tarnished when she was accused of plagiarism and padding her CV.

She has been an MP in the Bundestag since 2013, and as a mother of two young daughters has campaigned strongly on family issues as well as the environment. She advocates a tougher stance towards both China and Russia than either the CDU/CSU or the Social Democrats.

MsBaerbock has never held a ministerial post, but argues that she is therefore untainted by German "status quo" politics, which she wants to transform.

Despite their candidate's difficulties, the Greens are still widely tipped to be part of the next governing coalition. MsBaerbock and her co-leader Robert Habeck have a reputation for enforcing discipline in a party with a history of splits between centrists and radicals.

What chances? Of the three main candidates, MsBaerbock is currently the least likely to become chancellor, but her party is well on track to entering government.

After initial slips in the campaign, she has managed to shift the focus away from personality and conservative clichés about middle-class Green do-gooders trying to ban German sausages and cars.

The debate has moved towards concrete policy, where MsBaerbock is more confident. Climate change is a key issue for German voters, so other parties are unconvincingly pushing their environmental credentials, giving a clear boost to the Green Party's own chances of entering government.

Olaf Scholz, centre-left Social Democrats (SPD)

Like Armin Laschet, Olaf Scholz, 62, has had a succession of senior posts in German politics. He is currently German finance minister and Chancellor Merkel's deputy.

Unlike MrLaschet, his chances of becoming chancellor have soared during the election campaign. He is seen as a safe pair of hands, having first served as an MP from 1998 to 2011.

After a successful stint as mayor of Hamburg (2011-2018), when he rebalanced the city's troubled finances, he returned to the Bundestag.

He hails from Osnabrück in north-western Germany and entered politics as a Socialist Youth leader, having studied labour law. In SPD ranks he is seen as a conservative. He and his wife, Britta Ernst, do not have children.

He has overseen the emergency €750bn (£647bn; $904bn) funding package put together by the federal government to help German businesses and workers survive the pandemic.

"This is the bazooka that's needed to get the job done," he said. He is generally seen to have performed well in the pandemic, which has strained German finances and businesses.

His stolid, unflashy demeanour gave rise to the unflattering nickname "Scholz-o-mat" - but that image of reliability has struck a chord with risk-averse Germans seeking a continuation of the stability of the Merkel era.

A recent opinion poll for broadcaster ZDF indicated MrScholz was the first choice for chancellor of 49% of voters, compared to 17% for MrLaschet and 16% for MsBaerbock. And his party is also riding high: after years in the doldrums, the latest polls regularly put the SPD ahead of the CDU/CSU.

What chances? This is the first German election since 1949 without an incumbent able to take advantage of the vote-winning "chancellor bonus", as it's called in German. Deputy Chancellor Scholz has stepped into that void. He may be in a rival party, but Olaf Scholz is managing to portray himself as the Merkel continuity candidate.

His sober, unflappable style and ability to talk in ambiguous, content-free sentences reminds voters of the woman he has worked with for so many years. It doesn't make for excitement. But judging by the polls, centrist German voters find it reassuring.

Source: CNN