Merkel Successors Headed for Showdown in Caucus on Tuesday

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Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc is headed for an open confrontation with the battle between two potential successors to be voted on by her caucus in the Bundestag on Tuesday.

After a late-night meeting in Berlin between Armin Laschet, the leader of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, and Markus Soeder, his upstart challenger from the smaller Bavarian sister party, failed to produce an agreement, Soeder flew back to Munich Monday morning and called a meeting of the leadership of the Christian Social Union.

There won’t be a decision about the candidacy on Monday, and Soeder won’t pull out of the race, a CSU official said. That means that lawmakers from the two parties will head for a vote in the national caucus on Tuesday, which could be decisive.

Just over a week after formally declaring his candidacy, Bavaria Premier Soeder has been trying to persuade members of Merkel’s CDU that his ability to connect with voters makes him a better bet to hold on to the chancellery than Laschet, the party leader they elected barely three months ago.

Merkel Successors Headed for Showdown in Caucus on Tuesday

If the CDU does decide to go with Soeder, who heads its smaller Bavarian sister party, it will mark a surprising departure for the alliance that has dominated German politics since World War II, and could presage more dramatic shifts in the way the country is run.

Adding to the pressure on the conservative bloc, the Greens will announce their chancellor candidate Monday in Berlin. With the party in second place behind the CDU/CSU in opinion polls, their pick -- one of two co-leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck -- is likely to play a significant role in the next administration.

The Greens are calling for Germany to continue the deficit spending that has helped to keep businesses afloat during the coronavirus lockdowns of the past 12 months in order to drive the transition to a zero-carbon economy. With Merkel stepping aside after 16 years in power and the aftermath of the pandemic still unfolding, the election offers a new generation of politicians a chance to start the next chapter for Europe’s biggest economy.

Merkel Successors Headed for Showdown in Caucus on Tuesday

Soeder, 54, and Laschet, 60, talked for about three hours until around 2 a.m. Monday morning, according to a CDU party official. The meeting took place at a Bundestag office and other CDU and CSU leaders were present, said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential matters. Soeder is on his way back to Bavaria, news agency DPA reported.

Earlier Sunday, Laschet’s authority was further undermined when the CDU’s youth wing voted in favor of Soeder’s candidacy. Three CDU state premiers -- from Saxony-Anhalt, Saarland and Saxony -- have broken ranks with the rest of the party leadership and put their weight behind the Bavarian.

Merkel Successors Headed for Showdown in Caucus on Tuesday

Despite those blows, Laschet refused to throw in the towel, dragging the contest out for at least another a day. Party leaders are concerned that the drawn-out, public battle for the nomination is damaging their election prospects.

Sven Schulze, the CDU chairman in Saxony-Anhalt, said one option to break the deadlock could be a vote in the joint CDU/CSU parliamentary caucus. Another could be to ask the district party heads to choose.

“Then we would have a decision that is also backed by the party base,” Schulze said Monday in an interview with DLF radio. “We need a swift solution to the chancellor question, and if the two of them don’t manage it, then it will have to be done another way.”

In the latest Kantar poll, the CDU/CSU bloc is only 7 percentage points ahead of the Greens. Both Soeder and Laschet have insisted that they want a decision before the Greens’ announcement -- though they had also suggested that last Friday was the deadline.

Polls have consistently showed that Soeder could help to revive support for the CDU/CSU in September, while Laschet, chosen to run the CDU in January, would be an electoral liability.

Yet Soeder represents a gamble for the conservatives all the same. He has a reputation as an opportunist, has been accused of flip-flopping on key issues like immigration and has shown a mix of disinterest and dislike for the European Union.

In the past, he’s warned that Germany shouldn’t give away too much authority to Brussels and repeatedly criticized the European Central Bank’s bond-buying program. In November 2019, he said the federal government should compensate savers who suffered from negative interest rates and in 2012, as Bavarian finance minister, he called for Greece to be expelled from the euro area.

Pressure on Laschet to step aside has been mounting since the two candidates made their case to the group’s lawmakers last week. CDU lawmaker Christian von Stetten said in an interview on Sunday that Laschet’s leadership bid would be rejected by the CDU/CSU caucus in a vote on Tuesday if the issue isn’t resolved before then.

Last week, von Stetten put together a list of 70 CDU lawmakers who were demanding a vote. The number has increased over the weekend, as members of the party openly revolted against Laschet, he said.

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