The third declared candidate is, on the contrary, a faithful heir to the Chancellor: Armin Laschet, head of the executive of North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous Land in Germany (the Ruhr area and Cologne). Two outsiders remain: the Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, and Bavaria's Minister-President, Markus Söder. A total of five of them are running; the future Chancellor candidate of the Center-Right in the federal elections of September 2021 will be one of them. Angela Merkel, 66, has ruled out running for a fifth term, although the German Basic Law (Constitution) places no limits on her. With 16 years in the chancellery, next year she will equal the record held by Helmut Kohl, the chancellor of reunification. She intends to leave politics with a sense of accomplishment.
Succession will mark a break. The five candidates differ from Merkel not only in their gender, but also because they come from the west of the country. The Germans of the former GDR, underrepresented in national political life, had the satisfaction of having one of their own in the chancellery. This will no longer be the case. The contenders of 2020 have the typical profile of the West German politician, that of a Helmut Kohl or Gerhard Schröder when they came to power: a provincial politician, a pure product of the federal system, attached to his or her local roots, with little international experience. All of them are Atlanticists by reason and pro-Europeans at heart; none of them are sovereignists. All are convinced that France is Germany's main partner in the European Union and that European integration must be pursued. They all share the traditional German doctrine on the necessary fiscal discipline.
Only the 55 year-old Norbert Röttgen has experience in international relations. He has been chairman of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee since 2014. A lawyer, he is the vice-president of Atlantik-Brücke, a Berlin-based association that promotes Germany's ties with the United States. In the Bundestag, he spoke out against the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Europe and opposed the aims of Chinese electronics giant Huawei on 5G networks in Germany. But due to a lack of support in the party apparatus, he has the least chance of being elected. The real game is played between the other four.
For them, Covid-19 has turned things around. At the beginning of the year, observers predicted Armin Laschet to be the winner. This 59-year-old Catholic, embodying Merkel's centrist line, could have been elected with eyes closed as president of the CDU. It would have then been simple child's play to be nominated as a right-wing candidate and then to move to the Federal Chancellery in 2021. But alas, his messy handling of the health crisis in his home state of North Rhine-Westphalia put a damper on his candidacy. He defends himself by saying that he was unlucky, as his region was affected more than others in Germany. This doesn’t explain the many missteps he made, like confining the population too late. Forced by the other Länders to fall in line, he again played against time during the deconfinement by pressing to speed up the return to normal while concerns were still high.