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Merkel's Political Party Picks Armin Laschet As New Leader

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Angela Merkel has been one of Germany's most popular leaders. She's stepping down at the end of this year. Over the weekend, her party chose a new leader and possible successor to her. NPR's Rob Schmitz joins us now from Berlin to talk about who might replace her.

Hey there, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: All right. So this is a new leader for Merkel's party, which is the conservative Christian Democratic Union. As we noted, they chose a new leader this weekend. Who is it?

SCHMITZ: Well, his name is Armin Laschet. He's 60 years old, and he's the leader of Germany's most populous state. There were two other politicians who ran against Laschet, both of whom would have offered different paths for Germany's future. But in the end, Laschet prevailed because his vision for the country offered the clearest continuation of Merkel's policies.

KELLY: I'll just pause for a moment so everybody can absorb the name 'cause I suspect it's a new one for many Americans. This is Laschet - L-A-S-C-H-E-T.

SCHMITZ: That is correct.

KELLY: OK. You said he offers maybe the clearest continuation of Merkel's policies.

SCHMITZ: Right.

KELLY: Those policies being what?

SCHMITZ: Pro-business - he's on the liberal end of Merkel's conservative party. And after he won, he gave a speech that echoed Merkel's principles. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ARMIN LASCHET: (Speaking German).

SCHMITZ: And Mary Louise, he's saying here that "we always end our party conventions by singing the national anthem, which start with the words unity, justice and freedom." And he says, with all that's happening in the world right now - making a nod to the pandemic but also to the unrest in Washington, where you are - he says he believes these principles are more relevant than ever and that we should all fight together for these principles against those who wish to endanger them.

KELLY: So what are the odds he replaces Merkel not just as leader of the party but as chancellor at the end of this year?

SCHMITZ: Well, they're pretty even, you know, and it depends on how his party does in the elections in September and whether other politicians will challenge him in the coming year. He is not a shoo-in.

KELLY: Before we move on from Angela Merkel, who's been such a force on the world stage for so long, what will her legacy be after - it's 15 years - right? - that she served as chancellor.

SCHMITZ: That's right. And her biggest legacy, I think, is she kept the European Union together during a time when it was constantly under threat from being pulled apart. You know, a decade ago, she kept the EU united in the wake of the global recession, preventing the euro from collapsing. Later on, she negotiated a cease-fire with Russia, preventing it from advancing further west into Ukraine. She offered refuge to hundreds of thousands of migrants from the war-torn Middle East. And now in the pandemic, she's seeing her ratings soar from how well she's managed the whole thing.

KELLY: It's - whether or not you like her or her policies, she's seen as a force for stability, for holding things together.

SCHMITZ: Yeah, that's right. And she's the definition of cool under pressure. And more broadly speaking, she will go down in history as keeping the flame of a liberal-minded democracy going during a time when populism threatened it. I asked Stefan Kornelius, who wrote a biography of Merkel, what she would be remembered for. And here's what he said.

STEFAN KORNELIUS: She will stand as an example on how democracy lives from compromise, from finding the middle ground, from not overreaching and definitely not from arousing people wherever you step and go.

SCHMITZ: And Mary Louise, he says that Merkel will go down as one of the great leaders not only in Germany but in the world. And it's no surprise that her party has now chosen a new leader who will continue her policies and her approach at governing.

KELLY: NPR's Rob Schmitz joining us there from Berlin, where you have an interesting political year ahead as well.

Thank you so much, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thanks, Mary Louise.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOCOTRONIC SONG, "WIE WIR LEBEN WOLLEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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