One could almost hear the collective sighs of relief from Brussels and the capitals of the major European Union (EU) countries Saturday over the election of a new chairman of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU (conservative) party.
On the second ballot at a virtual party conference, Armin Laschet, governor of Germany’s most populous state and a close ally of Merkel, won by a vote of 522-466 over conservative Friedrich Merz — no friend of Merkel or the EU.
Nigel Farage, father of the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” initiative and easily Europe’s best known Euroskeptic, spoke for many on the right in Europe following the vote of the CDU.
“Merz as leader would have believed in the free market and not Brussels’ dictates,” Farage told Newsmax.
Of Laschet, who now looms large as Merkel’s successor as chancellor when she steps down later this year, Farage said without hesitation: “Germany now has a weak pro-EU leader and the block of European Union nations will continue to fall behind the rest of the world.”
A onetime floor leader of the CDU in the Bundestag (parliament), Merz, 65, was an arch-rival of Merkel in her successful campaign to lead the party and become chancellor 16 years ago. In recent years, he has served as chairman of BlackRock Germany and become a millionaire several times over.
Merz made no secret of his desire to move the CDU from the centrist party it has become under Merkel to being a home for “goodwill, traditional conservatives” who is recent years have been “self-radicalizing” and moving to the more conservative Alternative for Germany (AFD) Party.
“I’m skeptical about transferring more powers to the European Union,” Merz said in a recent debate among the candidates for CDU leadership, “I don’t want to see an EU in which our identity dissolves and we’re all just Europeans.”
In contrast, North Rhine-Westphalia Gov. Laschet, 59, has been a longtime EU cheerleader in his other capacity as chairman of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
Throughout the campaign, he closely identified himself with Merkel and told reporters recently: “The CDU must convey the idea that the 16 years when [Merkel] was chancellor were good years, and that we stand by her policies.”
Going back to when it was West Germany before it united with the former Communist East Germany in 1991, Germany has been ruled by the CDU for 50 of the past 70 years.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.