The election of the new chairman of the Christian Democrat Union Party in Germany should be a cause for alarm, not just for Europeans but for Europe’s allies as well. Armin Laschet, the Minister President of Germany’s most populous state, who was elected leader of the centre-right, governing, CDU Party on the 16th of January has a complicated view of the world.
He has in the past defended the authoritarian regime of President Assad in Syria, advocated for closer relations with Communist China, and called for a thawing out of diplomatic ties with Russia. He is on top of all this, a convinced pro-European.
In other words, he is Washington DC’s worst nightmare – especially at a time when the incoming Biden administration is looking to reinforce the Western Alliance. The new administration will undoubtably find that Herr Laschet’s positions on foreign policy are problematic to say the least, given that top of the new President’s inbox is growing tension between America’s main allies and China. As well as the continuous threat from Russia in Eastern Europe.
To add to it, as Premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, he has fostered close relations with fellow pro-European French President Emanuel Macron, dashing the hopes of many Eurosceptics that a new leader in the CDU might help inject a dose of realism into the Franco-German pact at the top of the European Union. Instead, Mr Laschet seems smitten by Macron’s integrationalist agenda.
He has been outspoken in calling for an increased role for the EU in both energy and security policy. A fact which will no doubt worry many in Central and Eastern Europe who have been trying to kill the construction of the Nord Stream II gas pipeline – an issue that deeply concerns them in both areas. Especially given that Germany’s addiction to Russian gas has already undermined the security of Ukraine and hampered the European Union’s ability to react more robustly on the ongoing situation in Belarus.
In comparison to his two opponents in the race, Laschet was very much the worst of the options. And yet the CDU voted for him – not because of these views, but despite them. For CDU members, Laschet is seen to offer a continuation of the current policy – he was very much the Merkel candidate when compared to Merz’s more conservative and transatlantic world view, or the softer more conventional Christian Democrat/Atlantik-Brücke worldview of Röttgen. Both would certainly have been better partners for the incoming Biden Administration.
Instead, Europe now finds itself in the difficult position in which its two most powerful leaders are set on carving out a new European path in the world, separate from other NATO members and their Western Partners. While many had hoped that the EU China Comprehensive Investment Agreement and Nord Stream II would have been one-offs, the reality is this could very much end up being the new norm at the expense of old alliances.
The last saving grace from all this might yet be the CDUs electoral partner – the Bavarian CSU. The two parties share an electoral list when it comes to federal elections, including the list leader. If the CSU do not think that Herr Laschet is up to the job, they could very easily ditch him as Chancellor candidate for someone else – perhaps with a more transatlantic outlook. Many will no doubt be clinging to this, for the sake of European unity.