Merkel Forced Into Damage Control Mode After Laschet’s Gaffe
(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel is spending Sunday visiting areas devastated by flooding last week while doing damage control of her own after a gaffe by her heir-apparent a day earlier.
Armin Laschet, who heads Merkel’s governing conservative party and is its candidate to succeed her in September’s election, was filmed Saturday laughing in the background while German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier promised aid to flood victims.
The images caused a backlash from opposition politicians and some members of the public by suggesting Laschet, 60, has an empathy gap. The worst floods in decades killed at least 130 people in Germany, with hundreds more still unaccounted for.
While Steinmeier appeared to search for words to express sorrow during his remarks in the town of Erftstadt, Laschet was seen chatting with his own entourage and at one point burst into extended laughter.
Laschet, who was on home turf in North Rhine-Westphalia, a state that has the second-highest regional death toll from the floods, apologized in a Twitter post, saying his response “was inappropriate and I am sorry.”
Still, the hashtag #LaschetLacht -- Laschet laughs -- trended on social media, along with images juxtaposing the politician’s mirth with images of flood damage.
“I have no words,” Lars Klingbeil, secretary general of the Social Democrats, tweeted Saturday evening.
Laschet “fools around” in the background, which is “indecent and outrageous,” Klingbeil told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. “In times of crisis, it is said, the character shows itself. Anyone who sneers around in such difficult situations without feeling disqualifies himself,” he said.
Merkel on Sunday is visiting towns in Rhineland-Palatinate, another region particularly hit hard by the storm disaster. She plans to make a statement around 2:30 p.m. local time with the state’s Prime Minister Malu Dreyer of the SPD.
Laschet’s gaffe came at a time he was showing improved performance in opinion polls, yet is struggling to emerge from the long shadow of Merkel, Germany’s chancellor since 2005.
Support for the Green Party ticked up 1 percentage point to 18% in the latest Insa weekly election poll, released Saturday, while combined support for Merkel’s conservative block was unchanged at 28%.
The Greens current level of support would be enough to create a governing majority with the Social Democrats and the pro-business Free Democratic Party if the numbers were reflected in the national election, according to Bild am Sonntag.
The Green Party, headed by Annalena Baerbock, has already become a serious contender after receiving an 8% share of the vote in 2017. The Laschet controversy may allow the party to pick up additional support, especially given the focus that the flooding has put on climate change.
Merkel on Friday promised short- and long-term financial support for disaster victims.
German politicians have called for permanent federal support to states and municipalities to adapt to a changing climate.
Rescue workers continue to search for survivors and thousands of homes have been without power and phone connections for days.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.