BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats confirmed Armin Laschet as leader of their new party on Friday following the vote, which is needed to legally enforce her election by delegates in digital voting on Saturday.
Laschet, prime minister of Germany’s most populous state and continuity candidate for Merkel, won 83.35% of the valid postal votes cast by 1,001 delegates, the CDU said. He beat long-time conservative Friedrich Merz in Saturday’s online voting by a margin of 521-466.
Laschet must now unify a conservative bloc that has never been entirely comfortable with Merkel’s centrist direction, even though she has won four consecutive federal elections.
“CDU remains Germany’s European party,” Laschet told reporters, stressing that he wanted his leadership to be marked by dialogue with the party’s grassroots.
Merkel, Europe’s top politician and a consistent winner with German voters since taking office in 2005, said she would not run for chancellor again in September’s federal elections.
Since stepping down as CDU leader in December 2018, the party has struggled to find a suitable successor.
In voting for Laschet, the delegation selected a more suitable candidate for the left-wing Green party, second behind the conservatives in opinion polls and seen as a potential coalition partner in September.
Laschet has taken a similar position to Merkel on several key issues such as relations with Russia.
In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper due to be published on Saturday, he said the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to bring Russian natural gas to Europe should continue.
EU lawmakers passed a resolution on Thursday calling for the bloc to stop completing the pipeline in response to the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
“The question of whether the gas should reach us by land or sea has nothing to do (with Navalny’s arrest),” Laschet told the newspaper, adding that he condemned Navalny’s arrest very strongly.
Merkel said last year that Laschet, 59, had the “tools” to run for chancellor, which would have come closest to supporting anyone.
But even as party leader, Laschet is not guaranteed to be a candidate for CDU chancellor and his Bavarian sister Christian Social Union (CSU).
CSU leader Markus Soeder has asked the CDU / CSU alliance, “Union”, to decide on his chancellor candidate only after state elections in mid-March, opening up the possibility that he could run if Laschet stumbled.
Written by Paul Carrel, editing by Thomas Escritt and David Gregorio