Senior German conservatives set to discuss chancellor candidate choice

German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes a statement as she arrives for the first face-to-face EU summit since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium

The two contenders vying to be the German ruling conservative coalition’s candidate for chancellor in September’s election are due to meet leading members of the parliamentary party on Sunday as pressure grows for a decision on who should run.

Armin Laschet, leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), lags Markus Soeder, head of its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), in opinion polls but enjoys the support of some powerful state premiers.

Traditionally the leaders of the two parties, which form a parliamentary bloc, decide who will run, but some lawmakers are demanding to have a say this time.

The outcome of Sunday’s talks, which is also expected to cover other issues, is unclear. While it is possible that the participants will decide who will run, they may also agree on a process or timetable for choosing a candidate.

Laschet, 60, a centrist widely seen as a Merkel continuity candidate, but who has clashed with her over coronavirus restrictions, has made it clear that he wants the candidacy.

Soeder, 54, an astute political operator who has sided with Merkel during the pandemic, has not formally said he wants the role, saying his place is in Bavaria. No CSU leader has ever been German chancellor.

Many conservatives are nervous about contesting the September 26 election without Merkel, who has led them to four victories. She has ruled out standing for a fifth term and has not said which of the two candidates she would prefer.

The conservative bloc has slipped to about 27% in polls, partly due to an increasingly chaotic management of the pandemic. In the 2017 election, it won almost 33%.

Laschet and Soeder have said a decision will have been reached by the end of May, but many conservatives want an end the uncertainty before then.

Volker Bouffier, the state premier of Hessen, called for a decision next week, while Ralph Brinkhaus, head of the parliamentary party, has given them two weeks.

“I attach great importance to this happening soon. No impasse until Pentecost,” Brinkhaus told the Funke media group.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has been nominated to stand as chancellor by the Social Democrats, while the Greens plan to announce their candidate on April 19.

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