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Young German politicians support their top candidates

April 20, 2021

The CDU's Armin Laschet, the Greens' Annalena Baerbock and the Social Democrats' Olaf Scholz want to move into the German chancellery after the vote on September 26. Are the party youth rooting for them?

Armin Laschet, Annalena Baerbock, Olaf Scholz
Laschet, Baerbock, Scholz — do they have the young people's support?

When Armin Laschet was finally chosen as the next chancellor candidate for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), 25-year-old Christian Weiler felt a huge weight lift off his chest. "Clarity at last," the young CDU politician says.

The 100,000 members of the CDU and CSU youth organization,  Junge Union, had spoken out in favor of Laschet's rival, CSU head Markus Söder, who is far ahead in opinion polls.

For Weiler that's no reason to worry. "Armin Laschet has already proven in the 2017 state election in North Rhine-Westphalia that he can turn an election, even then he was far behind in the polls. Besides, a lot of water will flow down the Rhine between now and September 26."

Weiler believes it is important now to draw the necessary conclusions from the candidate selection: "I thought it was good that it was discussed publicly in this way, but the timing was much too late," he says. "We should have established a clear procedure after the decision on the CDU party chairmanship in January."

Christian Weiler
CDU member Christian Weiler believes Armin Laschet stands a good chance to become the next chancellorImage: Privat

Green with envy

And so Weiler also looked a little enviously at the Greens, who nominated Annalena Baerbock as their candidate for chancellor on Monday morning in a much more orderly and dignified process. He was not particularly surprised by the choice but believes Baerbock's inner-party rival, co-chair Robert Habeck would have been a better choice for the Greens. "Habeck has government experience in Schleswig-Holstein, which Baerbock does not have." 

Weiler is convinced that Laschet will succeed Angela Merkel as the ninth chancellor of the Federal Republic. Digitization and sustainability, i.e. broadband expansion and climate protection, would then be at the top of his agenda, he says. But what if the CDU/CSU doesn't come first on September 26? Then, Weiler admits, he could accept becoming a junior partner in a coalition with the Greens at the helm.

20 year old Mara Richarz, would be fine with any coalition that includes the Green party. She has been a member of the Green youth organization in Bonn for two years; like many of its 15,000 members, the climate crisis politicized her. And since then, you could say, the 20-year-old has had a good run: The Greens have risen in the polls nationally, and at the local level.

"With Annalena Baerbock, we are looking towards the future: We Greens really want to change something. That's what I fundamentally miss with Angela Merkel and the CDU/CSU: there, they always just play catch-up and look backward," she says.

Richarz was very happy with the choice of Baerbock, but she would have been fine with Robert Habeck too. Perhaps the unity in the Greens is what makes them special right now; the continual power struggle between the Green "realists" and Green "fundamentalists" is something young Greens like Mara Richarz only know from hearsay.

Mara Richarz
Green Party member Mara Richarz supports Annalena BaerbockImage: Privat

She believes the wrangling in the CDU/CSU was detrimental to the conservatives' image. "That's a bad statement to the outside world that in the current situation, in the middle of the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, power struggles and political posturing are dominating the conservatives' agenda," says the young Green.

Mara Richarz is optimistic that the Greens' surge will continue and that Baerbock will be able to reach the chancellorship; climate protection and environmental policy have been recognized as vital issues by large parts of the German society, and the Greens are the most credible party for this agenda.

And what does the young green politician think of Armin Laschet? "He's only good at compromise, has little leadership quality - and he's responsible for the fact that we won't have the coal phase-out until 2038," Richarz says.

Richarz wants to spend the next few months campaigning for precisely the coalition that Christian Weiler wants to prevent at all costs: green-red-red. And if that doesn't work out, there's always the chance of a junior partner in a black-green alliance. "I believe that we will definitely have reason to celebrate on September 26."

Carla Diez
Carla Diez is a member of the Social Democrats and puts her faith in Olaf ScholzImage: privat

Olaf Scholz — the dark horse?

But maybe everything will turn out differently, and in six months Carla Diez will be popping the corks. The 24-year-old was already a social justice campaigner in her school days and for three years has now been a member of the Social Democrats' youth organization, known as the Jusos, or "Young Socialists."

SPD candidate Olaf Scholz is meant to embody stability and a new beginning at virtually the same time, according to Diez. "Scholz is distinguished, on the one hand, by his great experience in government and that, as finance minister during the coronavirus pandemic, he showed how quickly he can launch economic programs that noticeably improve the situation," she says, "and he has also shown his ability to change in the past year, away from the black zero," referring to the German government's traditional determination to balance its budgets.

Germany's SPD names Scholz as chancellor candidate

CDU/CSU politician Weiler says he can't imagine that Olaf Scholz could win the race. "Scholz did a good job as mayor in Hamburg and also in the coronavirus pandemic, but he has a party behind him that veers very strongly to the left."  And to Green Party supporter Mara Richarz Olaf Scholz is "not credibly progressive,  he represents the old SPD," she said.

But Diez also knows that so far the SPD has been stuck in the polls, hovering at around 15%. The young socialist has a simple explanation for this: "Unfortunately, my party's problem is that we haven't yet managed to make our good government work clearer to inspire voters."

The SPD has five months left to generate this enthusiasm. Carla Diez will do her part, pandemic permitting, and her strategy is to ask voters how they can accept the inequality in Germany: "Especially in the pandemic, we saw how much the gap has widened, especially on the subject of education, many children simply have no chance. I find that shocking!"

This article has been translated from German.

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Oliver Pieper | Analysis & Reports
Oliver Pieper Reporter on German politics and society, as well as South American affairs.