Merkel Party’s Leader Warns Her Against Seizing Pandemic Control

The leader of Angela Merkel’s party warned her not to seize control of pandemic strategy as he used the kick-off event for his election campaign to differentiate himself from the outgoing German chancellor.

CDU Chairman Armin Laschet said it would be a “misconception” to think that you can “regulate from above who can be vaccinated where, when and how.” “We need more flexibility and trust for people locally,” he said on Tuesday in Berlin at an event to start the debate about his party’s program for the Sept. 26 national vote.

Merkel on Sunday threatened to assert federal authority over measures to stem Covid-19, as she criticized Laschet -- who also is premier of North Rhine-Westphalia -- and other regional leaders for not imposing tough enough restrictions to curb the pandemic.

Merkel Party’s Leader Warns Her Against Seizing Pandemic Control

Laschet wants to run to replace Merkel after she steps aside, but his bid has run into trouble amid rising discontent with the government’s handling of the virus.

Support for Merkel’s conservative bloc, which includes the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU, has plunged by more than 10 percentage points since the start of February, an Insa poll for Bild newspaper published Tuesday showed.

According to the poll of 3,049 citizens conducted March 26-29, the CDU/CSU -- known in Germany as Die Union -- lost a further two points compared with the previous week to 26%, while the Greens increased their share of support by one point to 21%.

“Half a year before the election, the gap between the Union and the Greens is melting away,” Insa Managing Director Hermann Binkert said in an emailed statement. Several different coalitions seem possible after the election, he said, adding that “the outcome couldn’t be more open.”

The Social Democrats, the junior partners in Merkel’s coalition, scored 18% in third place in the Insa poll, followed by the far-right AfD on 11%, the liberal Free Democrats on 10.5% and the far-left Die Linke on 7%. All four parties were unchanged from the previous week’s poll.

Read More: The German Greens Gain Most in Election Polling Average

Laschet blamed mistakes in the management of the pandemic for the CDU’s sharp drop in the election polls. “Personal misbehavior, egoism in our own ranks have led to a loss of trust in the reliability and capability of the Union as a whole.” He vowed to change this with a party program that he said should include an overhaul of Germany’s bureaucratic structures, lower corporate taxes and a commitment to a strong Europe.

While Laschet wants to lead Merkel’s conservative bloc into the election, CSU Chairman Markus Soeder is significantly more popular among voters. Some CDU backbenchers have already called for him to become the conservative bloc’s chancellor candidate, as their chances of being re-elected would likely be better.

Soeder, who also is the premier of Bavaria, has repeatedly sided with Merkel on a tougher course to try to halt surging infections. “I find it strange that the CDU chairman quarrels with the chancellor just six months ahead of the election,” Soeder said at a news conference on Tuesday in a direct attack on Laschet.

Yet some senior party figures are still siding with the CDU chairman. “Armin Laschet has demonstrated that he is capable,” said Carsten Linnemann, a deputy leader of Merkel’s parliamentary caucus.

Laschet has said a decision on the candidacy will be made between between Easter and late May, but pressure is building within his own ranks to speed up this process.

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