Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters that it is a pivotal time for Germany and the Christian Democratic Party amid broad global challenges like climate change and migration, and that he hoped his decision to back North Rhine-Westphalia governor Armin Laschet would lead to a quick decision and a clear course.
"It is about the future of the country and the future of our party," he said. The leader of the CDU will be chosen at a special party convention in Berlin on April 25, and would be the presumptive candidate to run for chancellor for Merkel's conservative bloc in 2021 since Merkel has said she will not run again.
Spahn said Laschet's track record as governor of Germany's most populous state had convinced him that he was the right choice. Spahn would serve as deputy CDU leader if Laschet is elected. "Armin Laschet has demonstrated, and demonstrates every day in North Rhine-Westphalia, his liberal, social and conservative leadership," Spahn said.
Laschet said despite Germany's low unemployment rate and current prosperity, there is growing concern over rising rents, climate change, migration, digitalization and other issues, and a rise in "hate and anger" against many groups, including increasing anti-Semitism.
"We cannot allow that," he said. He pledged to work to bridge gaps between older and younger Germans, between people in the former East Germany and West Germany, to push ahead with Germany's energy plan to end the use of nuclear and coal power in favor of renewable energies, and to work on a European level with other nations so as to be an "anchor of stability" for Europe.
"We need more Europe," he said. The decision to work together suggests Laschet and Spahn learned a lesson from the internal competition that saw outgoing party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer narrowly elected to succeed Merkel as party leader in 2018. Since then the CDU has had a string of poor showings in state elections and Kramp-Karrenbauer has struggled to establish her authority over the party, leading to her decision earlier this month to step down.
Former environment minister Norbert Roettgen, announced last week that he would seek the CDU leadership. The third main contender to replace Kramp-Karrenbauer, former parliamentary group leader Friedrich Merz, was expected to announce his candidacy later Tuesday. Merz, who has been in the private sector in recent years, is widely thought to have the support of the conservative side of the CDU.