Merkel’s New Heir Gets Warning From Top Coalition Contender

The newly-elected chief of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party was given a rude welcome by the leading contender to form a government after September elections.

Robert Habeck, co-head of Germany’s Green Party, criticized Armin Laschet as lacking vision and vowed to fight the Christian Democrats for voters before considering any chances of a coalition. The comments indicate a tough campaign as Germany prepares for a political reshuffle after 16 years under Merkel.

“Laschet is someone who puts brakes on political concepts,” Habeck said Monday during an online news conference. “The question is whether you can govern with brakes on.”

The moderate premier of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia beat out long-time Merkel critic Friedrich Merz to become chairman of Germany’s most powerful party. While that would normally make him the automatic choice to run for chancellor, Markus Soeder -- the head of the Bavarian CSU sister party -- is far more popular in the polls and could be nominated when a decision is made this spring.

The Greens were on par with the conservative bloc before the coronavirus crisis and are still the second-most popular party in Europe’s largest economy. A coalition between the CDU and the Greens is seen as the most likely path to a majority government, but the Greens could also potentially look to form a three-way alliance with the Social Democrats and the Left party.

While the new CDU leader is a centrist in Merkel’s mold, Habeck said he’s not forward-looking enough to lead Germany, adding that the conservative party needs to change its strategy on issues from climate change to sustainable agriculture and fiscal policy.

He slammed the party’s support for the Nord Stream 2 gas link with Russia, saying the controversial pipeline needs to be moth-balled -- not least to put pressure on Moscow over the arrest of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, Habeck said.

“Laschet’s speech was focused on the present, and the election campaign will be about forging the future,” the Greens co-chairman said.

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